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Weaning to weight

My experience developing dairy farms and working as a young-stock manager has convinced me that we invest in our future by taking our young-stock through the weaning process well.

Replacement heifers and bull producers that are about to wean off milk need to have these calves healthy and growing well before the decision to wean them onto a grass and pellet based diet only. Make sure that you aren’t putting extra stress onto a calf that you may have just de-horned, vaccinated, or recently relocated. The calf’s rumen development and the rearing system that you are using are equally important when choosing to wean. For calves that have already been weaned off milk, consider whether they are thriving. Did they receive a check to their growth?

Weaning is transferring from a milk diet to a full forage/pellet diet. Factors to consider are:

  • Genetic potential
  • Overall animal health
  • Minerals/regular worm control programme
  • Age/weight
  • High volume milk versus low volume milk
  • Rumen development
  • Pellet/Grass consumption
  • Weather
  • Pasture quality

Calves that are on a high volume milk system may have a slower-formed rumen to those that have had a low/restricted milk system – abruptly weaning off the milk will have a detrimental effect to those high volume calves. Gradually decrease milk volume over a 1-2 week period and never water the milk down.

Decreasing the milk over time will help with transitioning issues, as well as seeing that the consumption of grass and pellet intake has increased. Weaning fully off milk should not happen until each calf is eating 1-1.5kg of pellets and 2kg of high quality pasture per day.

Weaning to weights and age are also key indicators needed to wean successfully. The genetic potential of the individual calf should be taken into the equation. In my experience, a large Holstein Friesian needs to be at 90-100kg before weaning, Crossbreed 80-90kg and a Jersey type 65-80kg based on its breed and rearing system.

Well grown calves are more profitable when not rushed through the stages of weaning. Poorly grown calves that haven’t formed a good rumen at the time of weaning will struggle to meet targets and potentially open them up to health extremes. Taking time now weighing and paying attention to detail will see a steady curve in weight gains, as well as decreasing the chances of calves that get left behind and fail to thrive.

Continue with pellet feeding post-weaning. Even though the animal may have reached target weaning weight, it will help during transition times. Keep non-performing calves on pellets well beyond weaning. Weaned calves are at extreme risk during changes of weather, pasture quality, travel and mob group size. A calf that can’t compete in a group will be well off target, as well as becoming time consuming and costly in trying to play “catch up”.

Ensure that weaned calves have quality pasture and access to clean water. If a summer drought is likely to hit then be prepared to keep feeding pellets for longer.

A monthly weighing, drench/mineral programme will keep the freshly weaned calf in optimum health, as well as keeping an eye on the overall weight gains of your calves – taking away the guess work and a great tool to use to reach targets. Small changes during weaning eventually add up to huge results.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

Article supplied by Karen Fraser, Technical Specialist.