Effective weaning = thriving calves

Feb. 10, 2024 | 5 Min read
As a beef farmer it is important to get the transition of weaning your stock right. An effective weaning strategy ensures calves continue to thrive, develop and improve body condition.

As a beef farmer it is important to get the transition of weaning your stock right.

If done incorrectly it can lead to significant stress, suboptimal weight gain and increased vulnerability to illnesses including pneumonia, while an effective weaning strategy ensures calves continue to thrive, develop and improve body condition.

Economic considerations of weaning

The weaning process is not only crucial for animal health but also for the economic efficiency of beef production:

• cows are able to convert forage into milk with an energetic efficiency of about 60 per cent. This means it takes approximately 5.5 megajoules (MJ) of energy to produce one litre of milk, which provides around 3MJ/L.

• calves, in turn, can convert 90 per cent of this milk energy into lean body tissue. Consequently, the overall energetic efficiency of converting forage consumed by the cow into calf live weight gain is 54 per cent.

• as calves age and their rumen develops, they begin to ferment the milk, leading to a significant drop in efficiency.

• given this inefficiency, it is more economical to feed high-quality forage directly to growing stock rather than feeding cows to produce milk to feed to calves.

Optimal timing for weaning

Determining the appropriate timing for weaning is essential.

Standard practice suggests weaning calves when they weigh at least 130kg. Under challenging conditions, such as drought, weaning can occur when calves are as light as 100kg to ensure continued growth and health.

Prepararing for yard weaning

Yard weaning involves several steps to optimise the health and growth of weaners - opting to batch wean if group sizes exceed 100 animals helps with management.

• ensure each animal has at least 2.5 square meters of yard space, more for heavier calves.

• administer Ultravac 7-in-1, to protect against the common clostridial diseases and leptospirosis. All calves should receive two doses by the time weaning is initiated.

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is a lung infection in cattle which presents as pneumonia and pleurisy. It is a complex condition arising during stressful periods including weaning. It has the potential to impact lifelong production and can in severe cases result in death. Given the importance of a healthy weaner, a single vaccination of both Rhinogard for IBR and Bovishield MH- one given once 7 days prior to weaning is ideal. Where this is not possible, vaccinating at the start of weaning is recommended.

Bovine Respiratory Disease can becombated with the use of Rhinogard.

• drench weaners with Dectomax-V at induction to the weaning facility. Dectomax-V is an injectable, dual-action drench that is highly effective at combating key parasites, including those resistant to other treatments. Worm burdens reduce average daily gains significantly and weaners are the most susceptible class of stock.

Dectomax-V is an injectable, dual-action drench that is highlyeffective at combating key parasites.

• provide nutrient-dense feedstuffs with a weaning ration consisting of 11.5MJ/kg of dry matter and a crude protein content between 16-18 per cent. Ration formulation with appropriate feeding systems is crucial to ensure access to high quality feed along with seeking advice from a nutritionist.

• ensure a supply of fresh, clean water, allocating trough space of at least 3cm per head.

• manage environmental conditions to minimise dust or mud in yards.

• utilise a set of scales to weigh weaners at the start and end of the weaning period to monitor progress and adjust management practices accordingly.

Incorporating these practices into the weaning process can lead to the production of high-quality beef and improve the overall profitability and sustainability of the operation.

Categories Cattle health Market insight