Advice for suckler farmers: Keep suckler calves thriving

Despite a late spring, suckler calves performed well on most beef farms.

Keeping up their performance for the rest of the grazing season, with stress-free weaning, needs to be prioritised.

Spring calvers are now contributing very little towards performance of their calf. 

With many not planning to wean until October, creep grazing the calves ahead of the cows from now until weaning, needs to be considered.

The benefits are many:

* Calves get priority access to best quality grass, to help maintain their performance.

* With an adequate supply of quality grass, less meal is required, giving a cost saving.

* Calves get used to grazing away from cows, reducing the bond between cow and calf, and reducing weaning stress.

Creep grazing is cheap to operate; it can be done by installing a creep gate or by raising an electric fence wire.

It allows you to feed calves in open troughs rather than a creep feeder. This saves on the cost of a creep feeder and on the amount of concentrates.

If you plan to sell weanlings, it will generally pay to feed meal. The response depends on grass supply and quality, weight, age, sex and breed.

As the maintenance requirements of young cattle are lower, the liveweight response to meal is somewhat better, especially to a low rate of meal. 

Calves or weanlings can convert concentrates to liveweight at up to six to one.

The best chance of recovering the cost of meal is feeding it immediately prior to sale.

It is also worth remembering that buyers do not want over-fat weanlings, and will discount their price.

Meal feeding guidelines are:

* well-muscled bull weanlings, suitable for export, 2-3.5kg/day.

* other continental bull weanlings, 1.5-2.5kg/day.

* heifer weanlings, suitable for export, up to 1.5 kg per day.

* other continental heifer weanlings, 1.5kg per day.

* non-continental heifer weanlings, 1-1.5kg/day.

Avoid overfeeding heifer weanlings; they tend to get over-fat easily.

Trough feeding allows the exact quantity to be fed daily; the lower rates are fed where there is plenty of good grass.

Best practice when meal feeding is to feed calves for at least six weeks before weaning in suitable open troughs, in an easily accessible, fenced-off area in the corner of the creep grazing field or paddock.

Feed all calves together where they can be viewed and fed at the same time. Ensure there is enough room for all calves to feed.

The ration should be palatable, 15-16% crude protein content, fresh smelling and free of dust. 

Introduce ration slowly, until all calves are consuming at least 2kg ration daily before sale (less than 2kg for heifers). Do not change the ration, and feed it at the same time daily.

In advance of weaning, ensure all calves are TB-tested, and free of parasites, especially hoose (lung worms).

Calves with damaged lungs are more susceptible to virus pneumonia at weaning.

Wean gradually, the best grown, heaviest first. Leave a week to ten days between weaning batches.

Move the cows away from the weanlings, not vice versa.

Once weaned, continue to feed the weanlings at the same time each day, feeding at least 1kg per head per day in a well fenced, well watered field for at least another 2 weeks post weaning before sale. 

Weaned bull calves and heifer calves should be fed separately


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