Tips On Managing Weanlings At Grass

We have seen a noticeable increase in the amount of rain falling over the last few weeks and, to date, it has not had any major impact but as we move into the autumn period we may see ground conditions becoming a little trickier to manage.

This, in turn, creates challenges for grass utilisation.

Weanling sales will start to take off throughout September, October and up to the end of the year and it is vital for farmers with spring calving herds to have their progeny in top form on sale day, regardless of the current price situation.

Stress free, quality weanlings that have been dosed and vaccinated will always achieve a premium price.

Grass is a premium product and on suckler farms stock going for sale must be given priority and first refusal on grazing rights. Spring calved suckler cows have been yielding well all summer but this milk production will begin to decline in the coming weeks and already in some instances the cows are now contributing very little towards the live weight gain of their calves.

Cows, for the most part, are in great condition after the summer and this can be managed so as to focus the better quality grass to their calves. The cows can be used to clean out fields or move them away onto rougher grazing areas.

Weanling bulls

Weanling bulls

Allocating quality grass to calves can be achieved through forward creep grazing.

A simple system of raising a wire or using a creep gate allows the calves to graze ahead of the cows, thereby offering calves first refusal on the leafier grass. This will improve the calves’ live weight gains in this important period.

On suckler farms stock going for sale must be given priority and first refusal on grazing rights.

Successful weaning is based upon breaking the cow and calf bond over a period of time, thus reducing the impact of stress on the animals and avoiding setbacks in growth. Creep grazing the calves ahead of the cows helps to break this bond.

Where grass is scarce or grass quality is poor, creep feeders are ideal for introducing meal to calves. However, over a longer feeding period these may have negative effects as grass intakes will be reduced due to the calves preference for meal, smaller calves will be bullied, and the costs of meal feeding will increase.

Once calves are accustomed to eating meal, open troughs in an area inaccessible to cows are far more beneficial than ad-lib creep feeders. In this way the level of meal feeding can be controlled, each calf gets an equal chance to eat, and indirectly it allows you to observe the calves easily each day making it easier to spot shy feeders or sick animals.

The response to meal feeding will vary greatly depending on age, breeding, and sex of the calf. With meal and good quality grass, bulls can achieve growth rates of 1.3-1.4kg/day with heifers achieving 1.2-1.35kg/day.

Weaning is often based on weight rather than age, and ideally calves should not be weaned before reaching 250kg. Abrupt weaning will lead to stress, pneumonia and setbacks in growth rates.

Always wean in batches. Cows should gradually be removed from group rather than the calves, leaving the calves in familiar surroundings. Aim to leave a week to ten days between weaning batches.

Once weaned, calves should continue to eat at least 1kg/day of meal for at least a fortnight. Magnesium buckets should be left out with cows to reduce the risk of tetany after weaning. Overall, we have had a very good year for grass growth. Coming into autumn, however, it is important to keep quality grass in the diet of all animals for as long as possible.

August is a crucial month to assess the amount of grass that there is on the farm and to plan final fertilizer strategies for the year. It is important to build grass on the farm from mid-August onwards.

This is even more important on autumn calving herds where cows will spend a number of months grazing before housing. This is vital to maintaining a low cost system.

We want to have enough grass to extend the grazing season but we do not want too much grass in late autumn as we may run into issues getting this grass grazed out. Each farm is different in terms land type, system being operated and grass demand. Assess what grass you have now so that you can plan ahead for the next few months and, hopefully, the weather will be good to us also.

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Corkman – Matt O Sullivan – 23/08/2019)

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Rural Enterprise Skillnet

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