When we think of feeding calves, the first thing that comes to mind is often milk. As Calf Specialists, we have often focused on the pre-weaned calf. The milk feeding stage is of great importance, and sets the calf up for life. However, the weaning and post weaning phase also requires attention.
The first 60-70 days of life are a golden opportunity to exploit the genetic potential of your calves. The weaning period and the days following are also an opportunity that we need to make the most of.
Calves begin life as a simple stomached animal – essentially a monogastric. They will however spend the majority of their lives as a ruminant. A successful weaning period is heavily
dependant on your calves being functioning ruminants.
Water is directly linked to starter intake so provide fresh clean water from birth to encourage starter intake. Also provide good quality (ideally chopped) straw.
The question is often asked when should I wean my calves. The most important factor to consider here is not the age or weight of the animal, but rather the volume of starter being consumed. By weaning (and essentially removing the nutrient dense liquid that has been providing nutrients for maintenance and growth) we need to be sure that enough starter is being consumed,
and the rumen developed to such an extent to allow the calf to continue to grow. If the calf has not been consuming starter for a long enough period to allow adequate rumen development,
the calf will not grow, and may lose body weight after weaning, until such time as the rumen is well enough developed. This is often referred to as a weaning check.
Considerations for weaning:
- Has the calf doubled birth weight?
- Has milk feeding been gradually reduced (Over a 2-3-week period)?
- Is the calf eating enough starter (2kgs) for 3-4 consecutive days?
- Is the calf healthy?
Calves like consistency and routine. Do not change too many things at once. For the few days before and after weaning, do not: rehouse, regroup, change feed, vaccinate, dehorn or castrate.
Intake of starter pre -weaning helps promote growth and development of the rumen in calves. However, we would be mistaken to assume, that once weaned the calf is now a fully functioning ruminant. Rather it will be 4-6 months of age before the calf is a full ruminant. By paying close attention to the diet of the post weaned heifer, the rumen will continue to develop – maximising the growth potential of the heifers.
Although we want to take advantage of high feed-conversion rates, this freshly weaned calf is not the ideal time to be introducing a high forage diet. Heifers need to be continuously
growing at a minimum of 0.8kgs/day to reach bulling weight goal. Forages should be gradually introduced between 4-6 months for the calf to be able to utilise efficiently.
For more information on weaning and post-weaning contact your Wynnstay Calf & Youngstock Specialist.
Calf & Youngstock Manager
m: 07881 379008