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Winter weanling weight targets- Where is the ground lost?

Alan Dillon, Beef Specialist insists that silage testing is a must on farms to determine if more or less meal feeding is required. Not many farmers achieve the weanling winter target gain of 0.6kg per day. This is mainly due to feeding poor quality silage without adequate meal supplementation.

While a target weight gain of 0.6kg per day in weanlings is often talked about, not very many farmers are actually achieving this target over the winter period in either suckler bred or dairy bred weanlings. The effects of this will be a lower turnout weight in the spring which may be alleviated to some degree by compensatory growth but in general will lead to a lower housing weight at the start of the finishing period the following autumn leading to higher costs and a longer finishing period of what is always a tricky business to make a margin.

Farms with extremely low levels of daily weight gain (<0.2kgday) over the winter period may be at a risk of stunting an animals growth entirely which will lead to a much lower finished carcass weight.

One of the main reasons for lower than desired levels of weight gain in weanlings over the winter is poor quality silage that isn’t supplemented adequately.

Get silage tested

Silage must be tested on all farms this winter to allow farmers to assess whether to increase or reduce meal feeding levels. The favourably weather in May this year allowed a large amount of silage to be harvested at the correct stage of growth in dry conditions which should result in higher DMD results than usual. Testing it however is the only way to be sure.

The supplementation rates required for various silage results are outlined in table 1.

Ration Formulation

  • Target 14-16% protein for weanlings- higher protein levels in ration for lower protein silages.
  • Minerals: Balance up cereals, beet, maize and alternative wet feeds
  • Value: Cereals, pulps and hulls are good value, protein sources such as soya are more expensive

Key points when purchasing rations

  • Don’t overfeed protein- production is driven by energy, not protein
  • Shop around for best prices
  • Enquire about the inclusion rates of ingredients in the rations
  • Enquire about the energy content of the ration
  • Lighter animals will respond to feeding better than heavier animals and retain more of the weight gained through to slaughter

Teagasc Green Acres silage quality analysis

The results of the Teagasc Green Acres Dairy calf to beef silage analysis for 2020 shows improved results all around for 2020.

Focusing in on the first and second cut results, the vast majority of the silage in the programme, we can see that an increase of 4.4 DMD has been achieved on average for the first cuts and an increase of 7.6 DMD for the second cuts. The improvements in silage quality have the potential to reduce the meal feeding levels required over the course of the winter to both the young and finishing stock in order to achieve the same targeted daily live weight gain as last year.


The results showed how improved silage quality has dropped the cost of meal input in a herd with 100 dairy bred weanlings carried over the winter by €1,652. Equally if silage quality had deteriorated by the same amount it would have increased the meal feeding by over €1,600.


Silage quality is what determines the cost of meal feeding

Reducing concentrates below animal requirements can have a negative effect (stunting weanlings)

Don’t over rely on compensatory growth