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How to wean calves

25 March 2021

Getting weaning right sets the calf’s pattern of behaviour for the rest of their lives but it’s not as simple as just separating the calf from the cow. Here’s what producers need to consider to get weaning right this season.

Yard weaning is optimum to ensure weaners are accustomed to moving through gateways/races and can be kept secure while being introduced to new rations.

Calves can lose weight immediately after weaning if the quality or quantity of feed isn’t adequate, or if the rumen hasn’t developed well enough to digest it. However, calves will recover from this weight loss with good nutrition, as most of the live weight loss is associated with gut fill that can be regained once they start eating again.

Seven tips for feeding weaners in yards

  1. Allow 15–20cm of trough length per weaner
  2. Feed weaner pellets and protein meals twice weekly to minimise bullying and labour costs
  3. Make gradual changes in the amount or type of feed to prevent digestive upsets
  4. Move calves into weight groups as they grow
  5. Keep accurate records to determine if intakes are adequate and cost-effective
  6. Set achievable target live weights to determine when weaners can exit the yards
  7. Ensure weaners have access to plenty of clean water.

Four tips for feeding weaners in paddocks

  1. Good weaner paddocks have abundant pasture species (>70% 3P – perennial, productive, palatable) or use an oat or stand over sorghum crop
  2. Ensure fences are secure and pastures are free of toxic plants
  3. Minimise risk of parasite burden by using a spelled paddock
  4. Ensure weaners have access to plenty of clean water.

Keep weaners healthy

A lifelong animal health program starts at weaning but will depend on a risk assessment and your biosecurity plan. Some disease threats are regionally specific such as botulism, tick fever and ephemeral fever but others, such as tetanus, are ubiquitous.

Three tips to improve weaner health:

  1. Protect against clostridial diseases using a 5-in-1 vaccination
  2. Drench for worms and other internal parasites in high rainfall zones
  3. Monitor for scours and faecal egg counts.

Five strategies to improve animal welfare

Maintain animal welfare throughout the weaning process by minimising stress and recognising early signs of distress and disease.

Here are five things producers can do to ensure the welfare of their weaners:

  1. Provide good feed, clean water, shade and wind shelter in cold regions
  2. Keep calves confined in secure yards but avoid overcrowding
  3. Release and tail weaners daily, yarding them again each night – repeat for several days prior to permanent release
  4. If trucking to another property/paddock, ensure weaners are well nourished prior to release
  5. If transporting, animal husbandry procedures such as castrating and dehorning should be performed at the property of destination, unless done six weeks prior to weaning.