Use weighing to monitor weanling performance

With plenty of grass on most farms, and excellent grazing conditions, many have turned out weanlings, or will soon do so.

How you manage them should be determined by their current weight, sex, and target market.

You should set goals for each group now, and review performance regularly.

Performance should be achieved in young stock by design, and not by an accident of good weather etc.

Initially, at turn out, the most important things to monitor are grass intake and rumen fill.

Before you set targets, establish what you have.

It is becoming more common for producers to weigh their cattle at regular intervals during the finishing period.

It is now also beginning to happen at critical times such as weaning, leaving out to grass, and at housing. If you have regular weights, you can establish if previous management and feeding worked as well as you planned.

In bull production systems, many are now castrating persistently under-performing animals, and letting them run longer as steers.

Production systems

* Steers or heifers for finishing at 20-24 months next winter: these cattle need to be given good quality grass throughout the grazing season to achieve optimum frame growth. This efficient frame growth will allow you to finish them much quicker once housed next winter.

* Bulls (continental or dairy origin) intended for finish before next winter, at 16 to 20 months: a critical thing with these animals is to establish what markets are available for them at finish.

Ask your buyer what carcass weight and confirmation they require, and also what the maximum age limit is.

The answers to these questions will help you to set goals and to establish budgets for the stock.

These animals are currently 12-14 months old, and if you intend on killing them at a younger weight, then meal feeding on grass needs to commence soon.

For those being killed for the autumn, quality grass can achieve high gains, and approximately 100 to 120 days before the target finish, meal will need to be introduced, either on grass or as an indoor diet

* Suckler Replacements: What do we want from these animals? Firstly, the breeding season for spring herds will start in April, so keep these heifers in a positive energy status to achieve high conception rates. Heifers you intend to calf down next January should currently be 350-370 kg, or heavier.

They must be 85-90% of a mature cow’s weight, and within two inches at the shoulder, at calving. To achieve this, the heifers must grow 0.75-0.8 kg every day of their life, to be 600 kg plus at calving.

* Younger or smaller animals: unfortunately, not all animals in your system will be at the desired weight or height.

This may be due to illness as calves, or being born later in the calving season. These cattle will respond very well to supplementation at grass, which will help them to catch up to the target group.

It will be well worth your while to run these as a separate group at turn out, in order to feed them on at grass.

Younger animals are more efficient converters of concentrates. If these animals don’t fit in to your target market with their comrades, then they will either achieve a disappointing market value, or take up valuable housing space next winter.

Grass Quality

Grass being fed to weanlings should be of excellent quality, to achieve target gains. Low quality grass has very little role in getting target growths from weanlings. However, excellent quality grass can play a major role in reducing overall feed costs.

Mineral Supplementation

Grass, as we know, is deficient in some mineral elements. Young, growing animals require minerals and vitamins to achieve target growth rates and bodily function.

Supplementation of minerals to weanlings at grass is highly recommended, either by inclusion in concentrates or through mineral blocks/buckets.

Two elements which are critical for young stock are phosphorous and calcium. These are important for bone growth and development, as well as saliva production. Saliva helps to buffer the rumen, and aids thorough digestion of grazed grass.


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