Last week we looked at preparing the calf for the weaning phase from six weeks old.
This included transitioning to once a day feeding, turning out to grass where possible and encouraging meal intake so that calves are eating at least 1kg/day at the point of weaning.
When to wean?
In most cases, calves can be weaned by age – typically at between nine and 11 weeks old.
However, the weight of the calf also needs to be considered. If calves are nine weeks old and are under 80kg, it may be best to feed on for a further period.
Trial work in Teagasc Moorepark compared the performance of calves weaned at three differing weights; 60kg, 80kg and 100kg. While these were Holstein Friesian-sired calves, the science should hold true for beef sired calves as well. All calves were eating at least 1kg meal prior to weaning.
Obviously, the 100kg calves were longer on milk in order to reach the target weight. However, at six months old, calves that were 100kg at weaning were 15kg heavier than those weaned at either 60kg or 80kg.
Furthermore, average daily gains from weaning to six months old were similar across all three treatments.
This showed that weaning weight did not affect performance post weaning. It does show, however, that feeding milk for longer will increase liveweight and it then comes down to a cost-benefit of the extra milk versus the extra livewight gained.
Feeding six litres of milk a day comes at a cost of around €2/head/day. Where this extra feeding might make financial sense is for later born calves that you aim to have slaughtered prior to a second winter period.
In other instances it would be better to wean earlier at lighter weights once calves are at least 80kg.
Remember, the key parameter is to ensure calves are eating at least 1kg of meal prior to the onset of weaning. Where this is not happening you need to question why not.
Make sure meal is offered fresh every day to calves, and is available at all times. Also make sure calves have access to fresh, clean water as this can effect concentrate intake.
Reduce all stress triggers for calves around the time of weaning. Have calves out at grass prior to weaning. Ensure vaccinations and any treatments such as disbudding are done well in advance and have a paddock with good shelter for calves to graze during the weaning phase.