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What to feed weaners

31 March 2021

Weaners require good quality hay and supplements immediately upon weaning to maintain an active rumen and a positive growth rate.

If the feed on offer is good quality wet season pasture that is highly digestible and high in protein, calves weaned as light as 100kg don’t need any supplements.

However, very few beef enterprises wean over the wet season as most are generally calving at that time in northern Australia. Most weaning occurs from the beginning of the dry season.

When weaning occurs with adequate green feed available, the only supplements that may be required are phosphorus, copper, cobalt or selenium.

TIP: Complete a chemical analysis of grazing pastures to work out the availability of these minerals on your property.

Weaning during a dry period

The main challenge for northern beef enterprises is when calves are weaned during a period of declining feed quality. So, supplementation programs need be designed for weaners of various weight ranges on a low or declining level of nutrition as shown below.

Figure 1: Weaner feeding decisions

weaner-feeding-decisions.png

The cost benefits of feeding supplements to weaners depend on supplement prices and the value of the animals.

There may be little benefit in supplementing heavy weaners unless their survival is compromised by other events such as sudden cold/wet periods.

Other benefits created by good weaning supplementation practices include:

  • selling steers earlier
  • ensuring heifers achieve their critical mating weights at joining.

Table 1: Supplement requirements for weaners of various ages and weights on two different pasture qualities

  Poddy calves
0–6 weeks
≤50kg Radical
Radical
<3 months
50–100kg
Early
3–5z months
100–150kg
Normal
5–8 months
>150kg
Maintenance quality pasture
(<55% DMD, 7.7 MJ ME and
<7% CP)
Milk or milk
replacer and high
quality calf meal/
pellets
High quality hay
and calf meal/
pellets
Protein meals Protein
supplements (dry
licks, blocks and
liquid supplements)
Good quality pasture
(>55% DMD, 8.6 MJ ME,
>10% CP)
Milk or milk replacer and high quality calf meal/ pellets Calf meal/pellets Fortified molasses Not required

DMD – dry matter digestibility; MJ ME – megajoules metabolisable energy

* Calves <150 kg require a minimum of 15% crude protein for unrestricted growth