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Autumn Weanling Management

06 September 2019
Type Media Article

By Gabriel Trayers, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Overall, despite a wet August, it has been a good year for grass growth and with firm underfoot conditions, stock have performed well on beef farms. As we head into autumn, keeping up the performance of spring born calves must be a priority. At this stage of the year, a spring calving cow is now contributing very little towards the performance of her calf, as milk supply has dropped significantly.  Indeed any weanling over 250kgs should now be weaned and be given priority treatment. Research results have demonstrated that these ‘heavy’ weanlings will perform better off the cow. The average target for weanlings is a weight gain of 1kg/day. To ensure that this target can be met, minimising weaning stress is a key factor. The following are the recommendations given

  • Concentrate Feeding. Feeding a palatable, 15-16% crude protein ration reduce stress and helps animals thrive. Ideally calves should be getting meal at least 6 weeks prior to weaning and continue afterwards. 1kg/head/day is sufficient but well grown bull weanlings could be fed 1.5kg to 2kg daily. Do not overfeed with meal and nobody wants to buy fat weanlings. Trough feeding allows you control the quantity each animal is getting. Some farmers I know will use a creep gate between fields or an electric fence that allows calves to access troughs while keeping the cows at bay.
  • Creep Grazing; Creep grazing weanlings ahead of the cows has many benefits. The calves get priority access to the best grass. They are not competing with cows! This will drive performance and avoids dependence on meal which is a significant saving. Creep grazing will help break the maternal bond as calves will wander away from their mothers daily which will reduce stress at weaning. In a leader follower system the cows can be used to mop up the grass not eaten by the weanlings.
  • Weaning Methods; This will vary from farm to farm but it is common that both cows and weanlings are housed in a slatted shed and separated. We are all familiar with the ‘bawling’ for a number of nights in October and November. While the stocks are in a safe environment it is the most stressful method for weanlings. A new environment, a new diet and the sudden separation is huge distress for a weanling which could lead to health issues such as pneumonia. Avoid abrupt weaning and try and have a more gradual approach eg forward creep grazing and stop day time suckling and progress to very second day. Some farmers will remove 2-3 cows from the main herd every couple of days and house them. Their calves are still familiar with their surroundings out in the field and with other cows/calves which will help minimize stress. Wean heaviest calves first.
  • Other Considerations; In advance of weaning all calves should be dosed for parasites, especially hoose (lungworms) and stomach worms. Calves with damaged lungs are more susceptible to virus pneumonia. Consider a vaccination programme to help prevent the common respiratory viruses. Avoid weaning and dosing or castration on the one day!
  • Dry Suckler Cow Management; Be mindful of grass tetany immediately after weaning as a result of stress. Most farmers will house the cows for a week. Ensure that the pens are clean with ample fresh water. Do not overstock pens at this time. Once cows are dried off and settled you might get the opportunity to get the cows back on grass. If the cows are in very good condition they could be used to clean out pastures which will benefit spring growth of grass.