“How and When?” A guide to economical weaning.

My approach to weaning calves is exactly like getting the biting point in a car – take your foot off the clutch too soon and you will stall.  If calves are weaned too young or abruptly, it can have significant effect on their growth.

One question I am asked all too often is: “when should I wean my calves?”  This is a good question.  But when is the desired time for weaning? No two farms are the same, so weaning ages and management styles will vary completely from one farm to the next. As long as the calf has had a good start and is fed a good quality starter feed to encourage rumen development, weaning should commence gradually from 8 weeks.

However, one thing I do advocate is to have two weaning criteria: The calf should be double its birthweight before weaning commences and should be eating a minimum of 2kg of dry feed for three consecutive days.  Successful units tend to have the following targets to work towards:

  • Doubling calves birthweight by 2 months of age
  • Trebling birthweight by 3 months
  • Hitting bulling weight by 13 months
  • And calving by 24 months

Most farmers I have discussions with, have two elements in the back of their mind when making a buying decision: price or performance.  I believe performance should be at the forefront of a buying decision as this in actual fact will be the cheapest.  If the animal is performing to its genetic potential, then it is a far healthier animal which can actually reduce your costs.

Looking at weights will provide a guide to performance, but a healthy coat, clear eyes and a clean tail will also give you confidence that the feed is good quality. Have you looked at the cost/kg of liveweight gain and is there a cheaper way of achieving this? Good feed conversion at this early stage will save pounds later on.

All the evidence we have points to using the best quality milks and starter feeds for the first twelve weeks while the calf is growing the strong frame it will need to carry flesh and/or milk in future years. Cheap, less digestible concentrates are often a false economy. For instance, if we consider an 18% rearer nut at approximately £210-220/tonne – it takes 4kg of this nut to put on 1kg of weight. Is this good value, or is a specialist 18% starter nut offering 3:1 conversion and costing approx. £260/tonne a better option? The maths shows us the more economical choice is the specialist nut.

Wynnstay have 30 years of experience with calf starter feeds and the well proven Start ‘n’ Wean nut delivers exactly what it promises. It is specially formulated to stimulate appetite and establish early development of a healthy, functional rumen.

Wynnstay’s Start ‘n’ Wean offers fast growth rates, palatable wholesome ingredients providing a balance of starch, high quality protein and fibre.  Start ‘n’ Wean exclusively contains N.I.S. as a main source of digestible fibre, reducing acidosis (dirty tails) and enhancing appetite.  The inclusion of a bespoke health supplement will help stimulate natural immunity.

Calves reared on a combination of Wynngold Milks and Start ‘n’ Wean nuts never look back.

Sandy Wilson
Calf Specialist

Follow Sandy on Twitter @petticoatcalves

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