Wean early to save feed sup­plies this sea­son

Mansfield Courier - - Property Guide -

EARLY wean­ing is a strat­egy worth con­sid­er­ing this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria, with the feed and water chal­lenges faced dur­ing past sea­sons con­tin­u­ing to be felt.

In a nut shell, the rea­sons to con­sider early wean­ing can be bro­ken down into sev­eral cater­gories. These are:

Main­tain­ing herd fer­til­ity:

Early wean­ing helps beef pro­duc­ers to main­tain cow con­di­tion and there­fore fer­til­ity of their breed­ing herd dur­ing and af­ter a drought.

For ex­am­ple, by wean­ing spring calv­ing herds be­fore cows fall be­low a fat score of three will mean they only need main­tain­ing to calv­ing for ac­cept­able post-calv­ing re­turn (in­ter­val) to oestrus and con­cep­tion rates.

Cows down in con­di­tion are more likely to cy­cle and con­ceive sooner af­ter calv­ing, if the calves are weaned prior to join­ing.

Save your pas­ture:

It is more ef­fi­cient to con­vert feed di­rectly into calf weight than milk for a cow and calf pair.

Wean­ing early will re­duce the dry sheep equiv­a­lent de­mand on your prop­erty.

When com­bined with feed­ing ap­pro­pri­ate qual­ity and quan­tity of feed to dry cows and weaned calves, rather than cows with calves at foot, sig­nif­i­cant feed­ing cost re­duc­tions can re­sult.

Cows that have had their calves weaned early can be shifted to more mar­ginal coun­try so only ‘grow­ing’ stock are run in the best pad­docks.

Cows will need less feed­ing later on be­cause they will have lower weight loss once calves are weaned.

Bet­ter utilise sup­ple­men­tary feed:

Buy­ing sup­ple­men­tary feed dur­ing a drought is a costly ex­er­cise.

Early wean­ing will en­able you to bet­ter al­lo­cate sup­ple­ments to dif­fer­ent classes of an­i­mals.

By wean­ing the calf off the cow early, the cow re­turns to main­te­nance re­quire­ment en­ergy lev­els.

This sep­a­ra­tion can pro­vide a 30 per cent sav­ings in en­ergy across the farm.

High en­ergy and pro­tein feeds can be fed to young grow­ing stock, and lower qual­ity feeds (that is, poorer qual­ity hay) to the dry cows.

This will re­duce the over­all cost of sup­ple­ments dur­ing the drought.

Save water:

Early wean­ing can re­duce water re­quire­ments of cows by up to 60 per cent.

Lac­tat­ing cows re­quire up to 100 litres per day.

Although a calf’s water in­take ap­prox­i­mately dou­bles when it is weaned as it’s no longer get­ting liq­uid via its mother’s milk, there is a sig­nif­i­cant net sav­ing in water from early wean­ing.

Sell cull fe­males ear­lier:

Early wean­ing will en­able ear­lier preg­nancy test­ing and mouthing and the ear­lier sale of non-pro­duc­tive, cull or aged an­i­mals.

De­cid­ing when to wean can be a big fac­tor of the suc­cess of your pro­gram.

In most cases it is prefer­able to wait and wean calves at 12 weeks old or around 120kg, be­cause they will then re­quire less pro­tein and be eas­ier to feed.

If cow sur­vival is of con­cern, calves can be weaned ear­lier than this, but a milk re­placer will be re­quired if calves aren’t go­ing to be sold as bobby calves.

In a drought, all calves older than five to six months should be weaned and fed sep­a­rately.

Cow con­di­tion is a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion when de­cid­ing when to wean.

Wean early in or­der to main­tain cow herd pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The ap­pear­ance of calves should also be con­sid­ered.

Calves with dry, coarse coats (woody calves) are al­most cer­tainly not re­ceiv­ing ad­e­quate milk from their moth­ers.

Early wean­ing is the best pol­icy in this sit­u­a­tion.

Calves with glossy coats are re­ceiv­ing an ad­e­quate diet and early wean­ing can be de­layed.

For suc­cess post wean­ing, con­sider some pre wean­ing strate­gies.

These in­clude ex­pos­ing calves to the post-wean­ing sup­ple­ment while they are still on the cow.

Ru­men mi­cro­bial pop­u­la­tions can re­quire up to 14 days to com­pletely adapt to a new diet.

Con­sider in­tro­duc­ing calves to post-wean­ing sup­ple­ments slowly via creep-feed­ing two weeks be­fore wean­ing.

Avoid com­bin­ing stress­ful pro­ce­dures like cas­tra­tion and de­horn­ing with early wean­ing.

If yard wean­ing, where pos­si­ble keep the yards damp to min­imise pink-eye.

When pen­ning calves al­low four square me­tres per calf at a min­i­mum, in­creas­ing to 6-8 square me­tres for larger calves ap­proach­ing 150kg.

Pro­vide high qual­ity hay, such as clover, vetch or lucerne hay.

If these qual­ity hays are not avail­able then oaten hay com­bined with high pro­tein cat­tle pel­lets will sup­ply the wean­ers’ nu­tri­tion.

Weaned calves need to have an ad­e­quate fi­bre source such as a bar­ley straw in a feeder at all times, this will help their ru­men devel­op­ment.

The high-qual­ity ra­tion re­quired by early weaned calves will in­crease their risk of de­vel­op­ing pulpy kid­ney, so a 5 in 1 vac­ci­na­tion for clostridia­l dis­eases is very im­por­tant.

Dur­ing the first week of wean­ing ob­serve any small calves or shy feed­ers that are be­ing pushed away from the feed source.

It is best to draft these off and pen them as a smaller mob in an­other yard, so they have ad­e­quate op­por­tu­nity to feed with less stress.

Yard wean­ing is the best op­tion as the calves are con­tained, don’t wan­der, learn to stay as a mob, are close to feed and water, best to so­cialise calves to hu­man con­tact, plus daily ob­ser­va­tion and feed­ing is eas­ier.

Yard wean­ing is also an ideal op­por­tu­nity to qui­eten down stock by reg­u­larly mov­ing through the mob or teach­ing them to move slowly through gates and walk through the crush with­out any stress.

Leav­ing the farm ute nearby with the ra­dio play­ing gets stock ac­cus­tomed to voices and sounds and helps pre­pare them for fu­ture yard­ing or mar­ket noise.

Once weaned and ac­cus­tomed to peo­ple, the mob can be taught to move with dogs or ve­hi­cle in the pad­dock or kept within a stock con­tain­ment area un­til ad­e­quate pas­ture/ground­cover re­turns to your pad­docks.

Post-wean­ing nu­tri­tion:

The younger the wean­ing age of the calf, the higher the en­ergy and pro­tein lev­els need to be.

Un­less the feed has ad­e­quate en­ergy den­sity, feed in­take and an­i­mal per­for­mance may be re­stricted by small ru­men ca­pac­ity.

Much of the pas­ture hay and silage made in Aus­tralia is by it­self un­suit­able for early-weaned calves.

In­tro­duce any con­cen­trate (for ex­am­ple grains) slowly.

In­tro­duce ini­tially to calves at 300g per head per day and in­crease the amount by 100g per head per day with ac­cess to hay.

Sup­ple­ment the mix with a buf­fer to pre­vent aci­do­sis.

In­suf­fi­cient pro­tein in the ra­tion of early weaned calves will re­sult in short, dumpy cat­tle.

Likely sources of pro­tein to use are lupins, peas, lin­seed meal, canola meal, lucerne and soy­bean meal.

Feed mer­chants can sup­ply high pro­tein calf grower pel­lets com­pris­ing of 16 per cent pro­tein and 13ME (metabolis­able en­ergy) which are safer to feed than grain mixes.

Ide­ally, roughage should be chopped and mixed with the other com­po­nents of the calves’ diet, be­fore feed­ing.

Palata­bil­ity is im­por­tant to get calves to eat suf­fi­cient fi­bre.

Con­sider adding a sweet­ener such as mo­lasses or grape mark to a mixed ra­tion for young calves.

Although good qual­ity roughage (lucerne or clover hay) pro­vides a rea­son­able sup­ply of Vitamin A, some sup­ple­men­tary Vitamin A is usu­ally nec­es­sary for early weaned calves if they only have ac­cess to a dry ra­tion and have not had ac­cess to green pas­ture for some time, for ex­am­ple three months. Post-wean­ing man­age­ment: Rather than let­ting calves roam bar­ren pad­docks, con­sider wean­ing into con­tain­ment ar­eas where they will tend to rest and feed, con­serv­ing en­ergy and min­imis­ing dam­age to pad­docks.

Six weeks af­ter wean­ing, draft off tail-en­ders into a sep­a­rate man­age­ment group.

Re­peat this process four months af­ter wean­ing.

For more in­for­ma­tion visit feed­inglive­stock.vic.gov.au.

For more in­for­ma­tion about man­ag­ing dur­ing drought and dry sea­sonal con­di­tions go to agri­cul­ture. vic.gov.au/dry­sea­sons.

WEAN EARLY: Those fac­ing feed and water short­ages are be­ing en­cour­aged by Ag Vic to wean early.

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