With housing under way, there will be opportunities to start weaning calves where young stock are at a suitable age and weight.
Once housed, feed costs will increased. There is little merit in feeding high-quality silage and meal to early spring-calving cows just to maintain milk production and drive weight gain in calves.
Calves from such cows should be in the region of 300kg - and heavier - at this stage of the year. Feeding meal directly to weanlings will be much more efficient in terms of weight gain.
Cows can be put on a maintenance diet over winter, which is a much cheaper way of wintering early spring-calving animals.
Although every farmer has their own way of managing stock when weaning, outlined are five tips to consider.
1. Meal feeding calves
Under the rules of the SCEP scheme, farmers are required to feed meal to calves for four weeks pre-weaning and two weeks post-weaning.
On farms not participating in SCEP, it is still good practice to feed meals before and after weaning to transition calves off the cow and limit any drop in weight gain.
Meal should be fed in creep areas, otherwise cows will bully calves at the feed barrier and consume most of the ration offered.
2. Do not house and wean on the same day
It can be tempting to wean calves at the same time as housing. But such actions will only increase the stresses placed on calves.
Temperatures remain relatively mild, so housing and weaning on the same day will significantly increase the risk of a pneumonia outbreak. Allow calves to settle in the shed before starting to wean.
3. Make sure worming and vaccines are up to date
Once calves have settled, make sure all worm treatments and respiratory vaccines are up to date.
When combined with good herd management, calves that are properly wormed and vaccinated are at lower risk of developing pneumonia. Leave calves for a few days after worming before weaning.
4. Don’t wean all calves at the same time
Wean calves in two or three batches, depending on the numbers. Weaning everything at the same time can make it harder to monitor animals for pneumonia.
By weaning in batches, it is easier to keep an eye on animals for early signs of illness. If there is a problem with pneumonia, it will be limited to a smaller number of calves.
5. Gradual weaning is easier on calves
A gradual weaning method is less stressful on cows and calves, but does take more time and effort from a farmer’s perspective.
With gradual weaning, make use of creep pens. Start by locking calves in creep pens, letting animals back to suck cows for an hour in the morning and again at night.
During this time, offer cows straw, hay or low-quality silage to start drying animals off. After three to four days, limit the calf’s access to cows to once a day.
Calves should be fully weaned around one week after starting to restrict access to cows. Continue feeding low-quality forage to cows for a week post-weaning.