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Getting Ready for weaning

Getting Ready for weaning

Weaning can be a stressful time for calves as they make the change from a liquid to a solid feed diet and move from a pre-ruminant to the ruminant phase. Much of the skill in calf rearing is making this diet transition as smooth as possible, without set-backs to the calf’s performance.

Much of the skill in calf rearing is making this diet transition as smooth as possible, without set-backs to the calf’s performance, Tommy Cox, DairyBeef 500 Campaign advisor explains more.

Concentrate Supplementation

To reduce potential stress, concentrates should be introduced early, from a few days of age, to encourage intake. A high-quality, palatable starter concentrate should be available to calves freely, as soon as they arrive on farm, and offered fresh daily.  Concentrates should be highly palatable and of a high nutritional quality with good quality ingredients. Finely ground, dusty feeds should be avoided as this will reduce intakes. Calves fed coarse starter mix initially eat more and have higher weight gain and make the transition better. Calves should only be weaned after they have been eating a high volume of meal. Ideally calves should at least 1.5kg of starter concentrates or more per day for at least three consecutive days prior to weaning. This level of intake is usually achieved by eight weeks of age.

Forage Supplementation

Forage supplementation is beneficial to aid with rumen development, but not near as fundamental as concentrates.  Calves need small amounts of roughage in order for the rumen to develop.  Straw is an easier roughage feed for calves to digest and is preferred to hay. A high intake of hay in young calves will decrease the intake of concentrates, and the calves will often develop ‘pot bellies’. Over consumption of straw should be avoided as this reduces the overall energy density of the diet and will negatively affect performance.

Ensuring a successful weaning

Before weaning calves should be healthy and not stressed if there are any issues with them the milk feeding should be prolonged. Any stressful events such as castration, disbudding or vaccination should be avoided at this time as it will cause upsets and could potentially cause a growth check after weaning.

Abrupt or stepped weaning

Calves can be either abruptly or step weaned. Stepped weaning is when the amount of milk being fed and the number of feeds/day are gradually reduced over time. This is also referred to as gradual weaning. Both step weaning and abrupt weaning can be performed successfully provided the calf’s rumen is adequately developed and that they are eating at least 1kg of calf ration per day. However, stepped weaning does reduce the stress at weaning and can avoid temporary setbacks in growth rateGenerally, stepped or gradual weaning is achieved by reducing the volume of milk fed over a period of seven to 10 days. If calves are being fed milk twice a day, weaning can be achieved by cutting down to once a day feeding.

Preventing that post weaning growth check

The post-weaning growth check found in many calves is due to three factors

Low intake of dry feed up until weaning, resulting in limited rumen development. This results in a growth check for about two weeks while the rumen becomes accustomed to digesting significant quantities of dry feeds.

High intake of bulky roughage such as grass and hay. Calves are physically unable to eat enough roughage to sustain rapid growth weights with their small, developing rumen.

Calf stress when feeds are changed. Feeding concentrates before, during, and after weaning should limit the level of growth check. If a growth check does occur, the lost growing time will never be made up and it will take longer to attain target weights.

Getting ready for weaning in Donegal

DairyBeef 500 farmer Gareth Peoples who farms full -time in Tullyannon Carrigans Co.Donegal where he operates a calf to steer beef system is coming close to weaning his group of spring born calves. Approximately 85 calves were reared this year on the farm a mix of autumn and spring born Holstein Friesan male calves, all of which will be slaughtered as steers at approximately 24 months of age.

Calves arrive on the farm at approximately 3 weeks of age calves are fed a 750g of a 23% crude protein milk replacer twice daily from arrival until they are about 5weeks of age.  Once calves reach 5 weeks calves are cut back to once a day feed and from then on the quantity of milk replacer fed will be reduced from here on until weaning. From 5 weeks calves are fed 400g of milk replacer in 3 litres of water and are kept on that regime until they reach their targeted weaning weight of 90kg at generally 55-60 days. From arrival calves are introduce to a highly palatable coarse ration. The ration contains 19% crude protein and is made up if high quality ingredients soya bean, barley, flaked maize, soya hulls, distillers and molasses as well as that it contains an acid buff and yeast to prevent any digestive upsets. Initially from Gareth’s experience calves can be slow enough to consume any significant levels of concentrates but once they start intakes increase rapidly especially when they are reduced to once a day milk feeding. He believes keeping the troughs clean and feed fresh from the start is important to get calves to start consuming reasonable levels. Generally at weaning calves would be consuming over 2kg of concentrates per day and they are kept on this level until turnout. Straw is used as a fibre source and calves have access to clean fresh water at all times.  When calves are let out to grass first they are put out to stronger and stemy covers, just to have an extra bit of fibre and that the grass isn’t too lush for to prevent any potential issues with summer scour. Concentrate supplementation is continued for the first few weeks post turnout and once calves get accustomed to the diet concentrates are reduced and the quality of grass that they are grazing is improved.

For more information on the DairyBeef 500 Campaign, click here