Attending marts the past few weeks, there is a strong number of autumn 2021-born weanlings coming on stream. Spring-born calves will soon follow.
One of the best schemes, in my opinion, to be introduced by the Department was the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme (SCWS), with a large focus on improving animal husbandry at weaning time, with one of those actions being meal feeding at weaning time.
With concentrate price today, many farmers will resist feeding high levels of concentrates to weanlings. Zero concentrates, or minimal concentrates, will be fed to the majority of stock.
Where creep feeders are used to creep calves, limiting the amount of concentrates going in (not having ad-lib concentrates) means that calves entering the feeder first will gorge themselves, while calves second into the feeder will receive little to none.
Saying you are only giving calves 2kg per head doesn’t work with a creep feeder. I’ve yet to see a calf stop eating meal when he has 2kg eaten to make sure his buddy outside gets his 2kg.
A much better option if you are not feeding ad-lib concentrates to calves still suckling cows is to creep graze and feed concentrates in a trough.
Calves will get the benefit of all feeding at the same time, thereby all receiving the same amount, while also getting good-quality grass into their diet and breaking the bond between calf and mother, aiding in reducing stress at weaning time.
A simple method of doing this is to run a reel across one third of the paddock with a line of temporary posts.
A horse post, which is taller than a standard temporary post, can then be put in place. This raises the fence height in that spot, allowing calves to go underneath the fence for fresh grass and concentrates.
However, this may not work where there is a combination of strong calves and small, shrewd cows.
An excellent demonstration was held in Teagasc Grange, taken from Future Beef farmer Michael McGuigan, on a simple, cheap creep gate that could be constructed by any farmer.
Even if no concentrates were to be fed to calves, creep grazing is of massive benefit to farmers.
It will allow them to graze covers tight going into the winter without limiting calves' intake, all the time breaking the cow-calf bond, reducing stress on all parties come weaning time.