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Best practice management of dairy calves in their first season at grass


Trials at Teagasc Johnstown Castle show performance of young dairy-bred beef calves in the first summer at grass can have a big impact on their subsequent lifetime performance. It is essential then that they meet their target daily gains during the summer. Martina Harrington Beef Specialist has more

Achieving target weight gains in 1st Summer

It is essential that dairy-bred beef calves meet their target daily gains throughout the summer.

This comes down to getting three things right:

  • grassland management
  • meal feeding at grass
  • parasite control

Grassland Management

Calves are selective grazers and need therefore to be offered fresh leafy grass every three to four days. They should be going into light covers (no more than 1,000-1,400kg DM/ha) similar to what ewes would be offered. Ideally, they should not be forced to graze out paddocks but rather another group of stock should follow them to graze the last of the grass. Whether or not meals should be fed in July and August will depend on the standard of grassland management on the farm. If calves are getting a constant supply of leafy grass and weather conditions are good, then meals can be cut out for these months. If however they are being forced to graze poorer-quality swards and/or the weather is unfavourable (especially wet weather) then there is a benefit in feeding a small amount of concentrates daily.

Meal Feeding at Grass

Feeding over 1.0kg per day to calves is not only costly but also reduces their grass intake, which then makes grassland management even more challenging as they are longer grazing down paddocks.

Parasite Control

Stomach worms and hoose need to be kept to a minimum in young calves in their first year at grass. Calves have no immunity built up to them and they can dramatically reduce their daily performance if treatment for them is delayed. However, recent studies have shown that there is a resistance building in stomach worms to the different wormers that are on the market. Essentially, this means that they are not as effective at killing these parasites as they used to be and if we are not careful they may be of no use to us in years to come if their efficacy continues to decline. One of the key steps to slowing down the problem of resistance to wormers is to only use them when they are needed. Pooled fresh dung samples taken from a batch of calves can be sent to a laboratory and for a very small fee they can quickly tell you whether or not the calves need to be dosed for stomach worms. This is now considered best practice rather than treating calves based on the number of weeks they are at grass. Treating for hoose is different. Once calves start showing the signs of hoose, i.e., coughing after running, they should be treated immediately with an appropriate wormer.

For lots more information on this topic see Dairy Calf to Beef

The Teagasc Beef Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to suckler & cattle farmers every Wednesday here on Teagasc Daily