Early Weaning: An Important Management Option

In the current drought conditions early weaning needs to be considered by Northern Tablelands cattle producers to help manage the fat score of their cows to maintain productivity for next year or to ensure cows that are in low body condition can improve prior to sale.

Many producers may have to reduce cattle numbers further due to water and feed shortages. A 500kg lactating cow requires 13kg (8.5MJ/kg/DM) of cereal hay or 11kg of good quality hay (like lucerne hay – 9.5 MJ/kg/DM) to maintain condition with no paddock feed available. Once the calf is weaned off the cow and fed separately, the amount of feed required for maintenance drops (7kg of good quality hay for the 500kg cow and 3.5kg of good quality hay for a 200kg weaner). The health of both the cow and calf will also improve.

Be mindful that once these calves are weaned they either need to have access to good quality pasture/forage or continue to be fed a ration daily that includes roughage if limited or no paddock feed is available.

Further tips for early weaning

  • Vaccinate calves with 5 in 1, two doses 4-6 weeks apart, with the first shot given ideally 2-3 weeks prior to weaning, otherwise at the point of weaning commencing.
  • Feed the weaning supplement two or three times while the calf is still on the cow. Rumen microbial populations can require up to 14 days to completely adapt to a new diet.
  • Avoid mobs of greater than 100; mobs of 50 or less are preferred.
  • Group animals of similar age and weight.
  • Feeding twice daily is preferred (morning and afternoon). It allows for a more gradual increase in the ration, reducing the incidence of gorging and acidosis.
  • Start calves on rations slowly. Start with 0.5 kg/head/day and build up 0.25 kg every 2–3 days. Remove uneaten pellets or grain ration each day. Calves will reject ‘stale’ pellets.
  • Separate sick animals and shy feeders – it may be best to sell these as they can be an ongoing problem.
  • It is best for the site you choose to have all-weather access and avoid feeding areas that are likely to get boggy after rainfall.
  • Provide shade in the yard or paddock.
  • Allow enough trough space for the calves – 30cm per head is recommended if you are feeding daily.
  • Provide clean water with an adequate flow rate for the number of calves being weaned. Weaned calves require 10-15L/day with up to 25L/day on hot days.
  • Ensure manure burdens are removed from the weaning yard to minimise the potential for house/stable or buffalo flies which can quickly spread pinkeye.
  • Ensure feeders and water troughs are at an acceptable height so that young calves can easily access feed and water.
  • Monitor the health of your animals as early intervention will minimise losses.

Northern Tablelands Local Land Services is running a series of Early Weaning Workshops to provide practical tips and benefits of adding early weaning to this year’s management practices.

Wednesday 20 November

  • Glen Innes Agriculture Research & Advisory Station, 8am – 1pm
  • The Glen Innes early weaning workshop is being delivered in partnership with Zoetis.

Thursday 21 November

  • Uralla Bowling Club, 7.30am – 11am
  • Guyra Bowling Club, 2pm – 5pm

Friday 22 November

  • Tenterfield Golf Club, 7.30am – 11am

To RSVP to the workshops and for specific strategies and feed mix suggestions for early weaning your calves, please contact Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Livestock Officers Tahnee Manton on 0438 600 473 or Max Newsome on 0427 007 190.