Many farmers will be thinking of weaning spring calves in the coming weeks, starting with January- and February-born animals.

Weaning is stressful on the cow, but especially the calf. Stress can suppress the calf’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to respiratory problems.

When it comes to weaning, having animals prepared goes a long way to reducing stress and minimising the associated health risks. Outlined are five tips to consider.

1 Is worming up to date?

Make sure calves are properly wormed at least two to three weeks before you plan on weaning animals.

Treating calves for lungworm, as well as gutworm, will kill any parasite burdens and keep animals healthy and less prone to developing pneumonia.

2 Vaccinating for respiratory diseases

When combined with good herd management, vaccinating against respiratory problems will significantly reduce the risk of a disease outbreak at weaning time.

If the vaccine requires a two-shot programme, then the first shot should be administered now with the boost given in four weeks.

It will cost around €15/head, which is the value of 5kg of liveweight for good quality weanlings at current mart prices.

A calf that takes pneumonia will lose more than 5kg of liveweight, never mind the cost of treating the animal.

3 Meal feeding

Getting calves eating concentrates will help transition the animal through the weaning period, although there will still be a period of low weight gain.

Feeding 2kg/day to heifers and 3kg/day to bull calves will more than suffice if grass quality and availability is good.

Ideally, feed calves in a trough during weaning. Calves that are slow to come forward and eat are likely to be sick. This is an early sign for intervening with treatment.

Note that under BEEP, calves should be eating creep for four weeks prior to weaning and two weeks afterwards.

4 Creep grazing

Allowing calves to graze ahead of cows will help break the bond between the dam and its calf. This takes some of the stress out of weaning.

Can electric fencing be set up with a creep gate, or a raised wire, to allow calves come forward to graze good grass?

Feeding meals in front of the cows will entice calves to creep forward. Using sheep or calf troughs makes it easy to offer meals as animals move from paddock to paddock.

When starting out, set up the wire to close of the headland of a paddock. This way, calves can’t get too far ahead of cows and get stranded.

Over time, calves can be encouraged to creep in to the next paddock, spending more time away from the cow and starting to self-wean.

5 Avoid castration and de-horning close to weaning time

If bull calves are normally castrated every year, avoid carrying out this procedure around weaning time. Castration is a painful procedure and increases stress, thereby suppressing immunity.

Talk to your vet about the best time for castrating calves to suit your herd. Always ensure animals get pain relief when carrying out the task.

The same goes for tidying up any horns that were missed during the spring. Don’t carry out this task around weaning time just because it may be convenient for handling of stock.

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