Why wait to wean

By Dave Warburton, Hawkes Bay Vet Services

It’s 30 degrees here today (4/2/2022) in Hawkes Bay and while we have had a reasonable spring and early summer, it really is just pasture clean up time and the feed quality now is not much more than cardboard.

So that brings me on to my challenge to you.

Why would you wait till our standard mid-March/April to wean calves in a summer dry environment?  (it also has some relevance elsewhere.)

There is always a check to calves around weaning and we try to minimise this yard weaning techniques and feeding supplement on commercial properties. Yard weaning is great for modifying temperament and educating cattle to fences and dogs. Feeding supplement at the same time also educates them to supplements they may receive later in life and they won’t forget – baleage, hard feed etc.

However before all this we need to consider the weaning date first.

Cows here are now on roughage for the next 6 weeks. Cow condition is going to get mined as calves are starting to get hungry for more pasture as the milk supply runs out but what’s on offer is barely palatable. So what will calf growth rates do in the next 6 weeks?

I challenge you to sample weigh your calves and actually put some robust numbers up to check what the benefit is of keeping the calves on mum.

I say…

Wean now when feed resources are limited!  Why

Weaning now will drop the cow herd feed demand by 20%.

Cows don’t need quality feed at the moment and all they are doing is competing with their calves for the most palatable parts of the pasture which the calf should have free access to.

I’ve seen plenty of calves have flatline growth rates (including my own) by leaving the calf on mum because “there is nothing else to offer them other than a change of scenery”.

Why would you have calves on shit feed for 6 weeks and then put then through a weaning check of let’s say 4 weeks? So effectively 10 weeks of poor growth rates!!!! Who can afford that?

A short term solution (strategy) now is…

Wean to drop feed demand and prioritise what quality feed you do have left to the right class of stock – the calves.

Tightening up the cows means they can be pushed harder to cleanup and when the autumn rains do come the pastures will be of a higher quality with less fungal toxin challenges resulting in better weight gains.

Weaning now means calves will be more receptive to new feeds and will continue rumen development.

Long term solution (Make it a policy not a strategy)

Plan to wean now by ensuring quality feed is present.

What does this look like?

This could be skimming through your Brassica crops once they have settled and then shutting them up again.

This could be giving your red clover/plantain/herb mixes a rest from lamb finishing and let the calves roll through for 4 weeks.

This could be introducing hard feed and developing their rumens further with tailor made weaner pellets.

This could be spreading the calves out with lambs once settled

In a stud case in paarticular this might be growing a summer/autumn crop specifically for weaners.

There’s lots of ways to skin this cat but the key is to do something because sitting and watching the calves idle along for 6 weeks to a traditional weaning date and then add on a weaning check is of no benefit to man or stock.