Feeding weanlings: On many farms weanling performance over the first winter doesn’t hit targets. This can be due to a variety of factors including inadequate feeding, inadequate lying or feeding space, parasite burdens or disease outbreaks. Losing 30kg weight gain over the first winter could add 30 days on at the other expensive finishing end so it’s important to get the first winter feeding period right. Light store cattle, and weanlings, tend to have higher weight gain during the first half of the winter housing period, partly due to being younger and more feed-efficient. Therefore, front-loading concentrates during this period increases weight gain compared with a flat-rate feeding period.
Take the example of a 300kg calf housed on 1 November with a target turnout date of 1 April, giving a 150-day winter feeding period. Feeding a flat rate of 2kg/day of concentrate is a total of 300kg fed over winter. Front-loading concentrates for the first 75 days at 3kg/day, then cutting back to 1kg/day for the next 75 days is still 300kg of ration used. The higher feed rate in the first half of winter will support higher weight gain. The lower feed rate at the end will help prepare cattle for grazing, as they are less likely to go to grass overfat. It will also help to adjust the animals’ stomachs to a more forage-based diet before heading back to grass. These animals will then avail of compensatory growth in the first two months of the 2021 grazing season.