Looking at weight data from the Thrive programme farmers across the country, it is clear to see that autumn grazing is a common time for calves to fall behind target in terms of liveweight gain.
August and September are two busy months on a lot of dairy calf-to-beef farms as finishing stock are getting meal at grass and being drafted for slaughter. It can therefore, be quite easy to take your eye off the ball with this year’s calves as the finishers take priority.
Calves are often weighed in late July or early August and are found to be performing well. From here, farmers continue with the same management practices for the rest of the year. However, in order to maintain an adequate level of performance from now to housing time, there are a few key elements that need to be considered.
First of all is grass supply and grass quality. While ground conditions across the country remain quite decent in most cases, heavy rainfall will have had a negative effect on grass dry matter (DM).
In a prolonged period of wet weather grass DM can decreased from 18-19% to as low as 10-11%. This will lead to a huge drop in energy intake of animals at grass.
Every mouthful of grass will have between 40-50% less feeding in it compared to dry conditions. This hit can be tolerated over a short period of time but if there is no sign in weather and ground conditions improving, it could well be time to reintroduce meal feeding at grass to calves.
Obviously we want to get as much gain from grazed grass as possible, however we need to be pragmatic about it also.
There is little point not feeding meal now, only to have to feed more meal over winter to make up for lost production or having to delay slaughter date next autumn due to animals not being up to target weight. By feeding 1kg-1.5kg of concentrate over the next few weeks to calves at grass it will help maintain performance through to housing.
Remember, the target is to have March-born dairy-beef calves weighing 230kg-240kg on 1 November so there is no time for underperformance.
It is also important not to feed too much meal to calves either. All we are trying to do is to top up the energy of the diet that has been lost due to poor weather. Protein levels in the grass will be sufficient.
Avoid using a creep feeder for dairy-beef calves if possible as what happens here is that some calves will be eating 3kg-4kg/day – more than doubling feed costs which is uneconomical.
Farmers need to keep on top of lungworm burdens in calves over the next few weeks. Depending on when they received their last dose and what type of product was used will determine when the next dose is required.
When moving calves from one paddock to the next or monitoring them after they run up to the feed trough for meal is a good time to assess whether or not dosing is required. If there is a lungworm burden you will hear calves coughing after a short burst of exercise.