Beef farm advice from Teagasc: Welcome the weanlings after their tough day at mart

Teagasc's recent Talking Timber event in Letterkenny, Co Donegal

Purchasing weanlings at marts is a risky business.

Marts are a high-stress environment for these young animals. Management, organisation, and good stockmanship are all required to reduce the risk of respiratory infection developing in purchased weanlings.

Prevention is better than cure. With this in mind, suggested best practice will involve the following.

Weanlings should spend the shortest possible time at the mart. A rapid, well-organised removal system from the mart premises reduces stress, and the opportunities to pick up respiratory infections.

Buyers need to get to the mart early and observe stock at the intake point.

Here, information can be picked up on the source, appearance and previous feeding management of incoming weanlings. 

Many buyers will know the farmers and their reputation to turn out healthy stock. Avoid animals that are very nervous, stressed and scouring or have nasal or eye discharges.

It is desirable to get a number of animals from the same farm, as companion animals settle better, and there is less mixing of stock from different sources.

After purchase

If possible, transport weanlings home in a well-ventilated, clean, straw-bedded truck or trailer. 

Try to keep purchase batches separate for about two weeks, so that infections that are picked up can be confined to small groups.

Most purchased weanlings will arrive on farms either late in the afternoon or at night. Don’t let them out to grass right away.

Letting out weanlings that are excited and have maybe sweated excessively will increase the risk of pneumonia. Instead, put them into a well bedded and ventilated shed that is free from draughts.

On arrival, provide them with fresh drinking water, a small amount of meal, and good hay or silage.

Introducing meal will allow you to assess if they have been meal feeding before weaning.

This should be continued at low rates at grass, to maintain growth. Give animals plenty of lying space, and avoid housing them on slats.

If possible, allow weanlings access to an open, clean yard the following day (provided seepage from the yard is collected and stored correctly).

Weanlings will normally need to be housed overnight and for the next day. After a day or two, they can be released outdoors.

Going to grass

When weather conditions allow, try to get weanlings out in the morning into a small, sheltered, well-fenced paddock or field with good quality grass. 

Small fields are best to keep them close together and help herd bonding; if you put ten weanlings into a large field, they will go to ten different places along the fences.

Don’t turn them out if conditions are wet and cold, or muggy weather; wait for a dry fine day.

Sick animals

Check on newly purchased weanlings two or three times per day to detect early signs of illness. If an animal is showing signs of illness, check the body temperature with a thermometer. 

The normal temperature is 38 degrees Celsius with a variation of 1-2 degrees.

Get immediate veterinary assistance if an animal has a raised temperature, because pneumonia can spread rapidly in weanlings; separate that animal immediately.

Try not to stress the animal when bringing it into the yard. It may be easier to bring the entire group in.

Dosing programme

If you don’t know the dosing history of a weanling, and think it has a heavy worm burden, you should get a recommendation from your vet as to the most appropriate dosing product to use. 

You need to minimize any potential pneumonia risk to the animal.

When you think there is no worm problem, dosing can be left until two or three weeks prior to housing.

At this point, you should use an avermectin-based product.

These provide residual cover for thre to six weeks. Therefore, treating with an avermectin product two or three weeks before housing will ensure the animal’s lungs are in a healthy condition prior to the high-stress housing period.

If you are buying in considerable numbers of weanlings, devising a health protocol with your vet to cover vaccination for blackleg, pneumonia and dosing would be time well spent.


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