What is best practice when it comes to weaning my suckler calves?

As we move into the back end of 2019, most spring-calving suckler herds will be looking to sell calves at sales over the coming months.

However, before this can happen, farmers must wean calves from their dams in the near future, and it is important that these calves are healthy and looking well on sale day.

Currently, grass is still plentiful on most farms; however, grazing conditions have become tricky in some parts of the country and this has to be managed.

Many herds will not begin weaning until October, so now is a good chance to get geared up for the stressful process.

Firstly, making sure calves are free from parasites and lungworm is very important – a dose should be given where needed.

In addition, creep grazing calves in front of the cows from now until weaning will give the calves access to the best-quality grass; calves can be allowed to graze ahead by simply lifting the strip wire.

Benefits of creep grazing:
  • Calves get priority access to the best-quality grass;
  • Saves on concentrate requirement;
  • Reduces the cow/calf bond;
  • No need for creep feeder as cows won’t have access to feed;
  • Reduces stress during weaning process.

Naturally, calves can endure a setback during the weaning period. However, supplementing these calves at grass will help to reduce this and keep calves thriving.

This supplementation can start six weeks prior to weaning and – as mentioned above – there is no need for a creep feeder as it can be fed in troughs when the calves are grazing ahead. However, different feeding rates are recommended.

Earlier spring-born heifers can be fed 1-2kg daily, while bulls can be fed 2-3kg/day of a 16% crude protein ration – giving all calves enough room to feed; the ration should also be introduced slowly and each calf should have access to water at all times.

While this additional feeding and weight gain is welcomed, it is important not to have fat weanlings entering into the ring on sale day, so over feeding should be avoided.

When it comes to weaning, calves should be separated from their dams in batches, leaving approximately 10 days between each batch. Cows should be moved leaving the calves in familiar surroundings and the supplementation at grass can be continued for a short period.

The now ‘dry’ suckler cows can be feed some straw and have access to clean water, keeping a close eye for signs of mastitis.