Teagasc beef specialist Martina Harrington outlined the key management factors that must be correct in order for weanlings to thrive over the first winter period during the recent Teagasc virtual beef conference.

While diet plays a key role in the overall performance of the animal, as outlined by Dr Mark McGee, there are a number of other factors that are equally important to have correct:

  • Practices around housing and the transition to winter.
  • Environment the animal is housed in for the winter.
  • The health of the animal.
  • Housing practices

    Martina outlined the importance of minimising the amount of stress on animals coming into the winter period.

    This means that you should work to a set housing date and plan around this date.

    Have weaning completed well in advance of housing and have cattle eating meal for at least two to three weeks pre-housing to help ease the transition to the winter diet.

    It is important to have sheds clean and disinfected prior to housing

    In terms of the shed, everything should be ready for when the cattle are put into it.

    It is important to have sheds clean and disinfected prior to housing and where loose bedding is being used that there is a good deep dry bed at housing. If at all possible, house animals on a dry day.

    Group cattle according to weight and age at the point of housing rather than remixing cattle at a later stage, as this will only upset the group dynamics.

    Also, have the silage out and ready for cattle when they enter the shed so that they can get straight into feeding when they arrive, rather than waiting for feed later in the day.

    Meal should be fed later in the day, as this can be used as a herding mechanism to ensure all animals come forward for feeding.


    Good ventilation means that there is enough clean air moving through the shed to remove old stale air, odours, gases, dust and bacteria.

    As well as this, good ventilation removes moisture and heat generated by ruminating animals.

    This is achieved using the stack effect in cattle sheds.

    As a rough rule of thumb:

  • The outlet area of the shed should be 0.1m² for every animal housed.
  • The air inlet area should be twice the area of the outlet.
  • The roof pitch should be greater than 15°.
  • Ventilation works best where the length of the shed is against the prevailing wind.
  • Interference of airflow from other sheds, buildings and trees should be avoided.
  • To know if the ventilation is sufficient in your shed ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I see cobwebs?
  • Is the galvanise rusty or timber black?
  • Does the shed feel stuffy?
  • Can I smell ammonia?
  • If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then there may be a ventilation issue.

    While good ventilation is important, it is equally important that there are no draughts at lying height of the animals, as this can cause chills.

    Lying space

    Weanlings less than 275kg need 1.2m² to 1.5m² of lying space per animal on slatted tanks and 2.0m² to 2.5m² in straw bedded sheds.

    For cattle over 275kg, a lying space of 2.0m² to 2.5m² on slatted tanks and 4.0m² is required on straw beds.

    Again, as a rule of thumb, for every 50kg increase in animal liveweight above 275kg, increase lying space by 0.2m²/animal.

    Remember that cattle will grow 70kg to 80kg over the winter period and so pens should be stocked accordingly.

    Feed space

    Feed space is often a limiting factor before lying space in weanling sheds.

    Where weanlings are being offered a total mixed ration (TMR), a feed space of between 225mm and 300mm per animal is recommended.

    However, in most cases, concentrates will be fed once a day in weanling sheds and, therefore, the head space required increases to between 400mm and 500mm per animal in this situation.


    Martina also outlined the importance of having a sufficient supply of fresh, clean water for weanlings at all times.

    Weanlings will drink between 20 and 25 litres of water per day.

    If you see animals spending an excessive amount of time at the drinker or a queue for the drinking trough, then water supply is an issue.

    Health plan

    Having a health plan in place that is sufficient for the problems on your farm is really important.

    This includes treatment of lungworm and stomach worms, liver fluke, rumen fluke and external parasites, as well as any pneumonia vaccinations where required.

    Speaking to your local vet is the best practice here to come up with a plan tailored to your own situation.

    Read more

    Teagasc Beef Conference: winter weanling management