Winning at Weaning: CATTLE

Weaning is without doubt one of the most stressful and important times in the lifecycle of an animal. Done well, a calf can be equipped with the foundation to reach its maximum genetic potential, via optimum nutrition and stress management. Prepared cattle are healthier, heavier, and more productive.
When? With this advanced nutritional management, calves may be weaned from as early as 8-12 weeks old. This is particularly useful in drought situations when resources are scarce. More commonly, calves are weaned from 5-8 months of age, weighing 150kg or more. The decision of when to wean should be based on age/weight of the calf, available pasture quantity and quality and the cows body condition. Why? Weaning is a beneficial practice that provides the calf with a balanced energy & protein diet whilst developing the rumen allowing an increase in feed utilisation. This also drastically reduces the energy & water requirement of the Heifer/Cow resulting in less feed & water required to gain condition score for the upcoming joining/calving period. Body condition score of a cow has significant bearing on her likelihood to get back in calf on time. It is far more economical to feed a split unit (i.e., cow and calf separate) than a cow/calf unit. At a time when the calf’s rumen has developed, milk is no longer an efficient way to feed the calf, as the process of turning grass into milk chews up energy and protein. Along with feed efficiency, cattle that are calm and handled are easier on yards and fences, more suitable for feedlots and at less risk of dark cutting from transport stress. Yard weaning In mobs of one hundred or less and in paddock groups, weaners may be weaned in yards for 5-7 days. During this time with short, regular, and positive lessons calves should learn to walk past the handler one at a time, through gates and be moved around a yard as a mob by person, dog or horse without excessive force or noise. Ideally weaners should be comfortable enough to lay down and ruminate with a handler in the pen. Weaning is also a good opportunity to prepare and further develop the rumen. To maximise growth rates, weaners require a high energy diet with 16-18% protein content. A ration of decent quality hay with either a weaning pellet, or quality hay with cereal grain plus a protein meal are good options. A successful, smooth transition to grazing lies in good preparation, meaning that ideally, weaners will have been exposed to everything whilst still on their mothers – this is termed as ‘imprinting’ and includes familiarity of yards, feeding infrastructure and all relevant feedstuffs. Health considerations At weaning, a calf should receive an effective drench, a second (booster) 5 or 7in1 vaccination, an injectable or dietary mineral supplement and the first or second BRD vaccine (Bovilis MH+/-IBR, Bovi-Shield MH-one). This will set the calf up with a strong immune system to face the challenges that weaning and life thereafter present and in doing so, create a more productive & profitable product for the producer. For more information, contact your Elders Branch or call your Elders Livestock Production Advisor.