Early March-born calves are seven weeks old at this stage and preparation for weaning should already be under way.

When to wean calves is one of the most common questions I get asked at this time of year.

There are numerous factors that need to be considered to be able to answer the question.

The important thing is that calves are being prepared for weaning for a number of weeks prior to the event itself.

Minimise stress

Every action that can be taken to reduce stress on the calf along the way should be considered.

Weaning calves off milk and turning them out to grass all on the one day is a major no-no.

Gradual and gentle changes should always be the aim to reduce stress and minimise the challenge on the calf’s immune system.

Six weeks old

Preparation for weaning begins as young as six weeks old. At this point, calves should be transitioned to once-a-day feeding.

Calf rearing on Thrive demo farm.

This not only reduces the amount of labour required to feed calves, it also encourages the calf to eat more solid feed, which is the main goal in beginning the transition from milk to concentrates and forage.

Concentrate intake

The aim is to have calves eating in excess of 1kg/day of meal at the point of weaning.

In order to increase calves' intake, concentrates should be available at all times and always kept fresh.

Highly palatable concentrate should be on offer to calves at all times during the rearing phase.

If old or stale meal builds up in troughs, calves will not eat as much as they should.


If weather allows and milk feeding outside can be accommodated, turning calves out to grass prior to weaning is a great way to ease the transition from milk.

The weather for the next few days is looking more settled and mild, so it may provide the perfect opportunity to do so.

If there is a small paddock close to the yard, turning calves out by day and bringing them back into the shed at night works well to manage the change in environment.

But if nighttime temperatures are mild, this may not be necessary.

Minimise growth check post-weaning

Calves need to be thriving every day they are on farm. Post-weaning can see a period of reduced or non-performance.

Where this occurs, one of three things has usually gone wrong.

  • 1. Calves are not eating enough concentrate at the point of weaning.
  • 2. Roughage intake, typically hay or straw, is too high and does not have the energy density to support sufficient levels of calf growth. This also inhibits the intake of meal making the issue even worse.
  • 3. Too much change, too soon. Stressed calves can be left looking for milk or not ready for a solid diet. Stepped weaning is important to avoid this, as well as having all the points outlined above in place in the weeks prior to weaning.
  • Next week, we will look at the weaning process itself, stepped weaning and age and weight targets for the weaning process.

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