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Weaning and preparing weanlings for sale: The dos and don’ts

In this article on, Keith Fahy, Teagasc Drystock Advisor, discusses preparing your weanlings for sale this autumn, the prevailing trade to date, the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme, the National Beef Welfare Scheme, and beef throughput levels.

As we see increasing numbers of weanlings week on week at local marts along with specialist weanling sales, it is clear that farmers are taking excellent care of their stock and are putting a lot of time, effort and money into ensuring stock are well turned out.

Farmers need to ensure their animals have put on as much weight as efficiently and as cost-effective as can be achieved.

Preparing weanling for sales almost begins once the calf is born, by ensuring that the animal is thriving from the day it enters the world until the day it leaves the farm.

Ensuring cows and calves are grazing leafy swards all summer is vital in ensuring cows are milking well and of course in good body condition, while also boosting the daily live weight gain of the calf.

Galway has the largest number of suckler herds in Ireland with 6,795 herds. There are a number of schemes in which farmers are participating in order to boost farm income whilst driving farming efficiencies and KPIs.


The SCEP, which stands for Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme, and the National Beef Welfare Scheme (NBWS), are two measures where farmers need to do certain tasks to ensure they receive payments.

These tasks are always good farming practices which ensure farmers are constantly improving the performance of their herd.

As part of SCEP, farmers must complete 5 mandatory actions. These are:

  1. Eligible Bull or AI;
  2. Female Replacement Strategy;
  3. Genotyping;
  4. Weighing and Submission of Weights to ICBF;
  5. Calving Surveys.

And for the National Beef Welfare Scheme Farmers must do two mandatory actions these are:

  1. IBR sampling;
  2. Meal feeding calves pre- and post-weaning.

These requirements all assist in ensuring animals are being bred from good quality stock and that animals are well prepared for sale.

Preparing weanlings for sale

Farmers can help reduce or break the cow-calf bond which will inevitably reduce the stress at weaning by operating a leader-follower grazing system.

This can be done very cheaply by simply purchasing two high horse temporary stakes and allowing the calves to graze ahead of the cows.

This will get calves used to grazing on their own. Feeding meal for 4 weeks pre-weaning and 2 weeks post-weaning will reduce the stress on calves at weaning.

It will also help boost weight gain and the performance of stock. Using aids like nose paddles can also help in that they prevent the calf from suckling the cow, but they can be kept together, thus when the calf is weaned fully, they will not have a dependency on milk.

Ensuring calves do not have a worm burden is also very important. Taking a fresh faecal egg sample will identify if animals need to be treated for worms or not.

Farming/ag news - Prepare your weanlings for sale this autumn, the prevailing trade to date, the SCEP, the NBWS, and beef throughput levels.

Feeding meal

Feeding meal to weanlings provides the best return on investment this is because younger cattle have a better feed conversion ratio.

Weanlings have a FCR of 6:1 versus 12:1 when animals go over 2 years of age. This means that a weanling only has to eat 6 kilos of dry matter to put on 1 kilo of live weight.

When feeding meal, it is important to:

  • Gradually introduce the meal to the diet to prevent acidosis or any rumen upsets in weanlings. Introduce at a rate of 0.5 to 1 kg/head per day for the first week or so;
  • Feed a high energy 16% ration/nut ensuring the protein source is of good quality;
  • A simple 3-way mix with minerals would suffice where there is good leafy grass being grazed;
  • U grade muscly type bulls can be fed up to 4kg/meal per day, but this should be reduced when feeding heifers as they can become fat and potential buyers do not like buying overfed/fat heifers.
Health status

Ensuring weanlings are healthy, have a shiny coats, no worm burden or signs of coughing is vital as prospective buyers will spot these issues straight away when looking at the animals in marts.

Vaccinating for pneumonia can help also as the stress of weaning can trigger the onset of some conditions which can have a catastrophic impact on the financial output of suckler farmers.

Animals should be faecal egg sampled also to ensure there are no worm issues.

Should I sell in pairs?

Farmers, when pairing cattle together correctly i.e. of similar weight, size, colour and breeding, can often attract farmer customers/bidders as farmers buying cattle like to limit the number of herds that they buy from.

Where cattle are paired correctly, this can attract more farmer buyers.

However, sometimes animals in marts are paired incorrectly and this can be where animals may be of different sizes or breeds.

This can have a negative impact, so care needs to be taken when pairing animals.


Looking at the official beef kill figures from the DAFM for this year, we see fewer and fewer cattle being killed week on week when compared to the same period last year.

Last week’s kill dropped to 32,592, a decline of over 700 on the week previous.

Factory prices seem to have edged up 5c/kg this week with bullocks trading at approximately €4.65/4.70 with heifers trading at 5c/kg more on the table.

Weanlings are trading well; however, on the MartBids database, we see average weanling heifers in the 300 to 400 kg category have dropped by 13c/kg live weight to €2.91/kg now, whereas weanling bulls in the same weight category have fallen 7c/kg to €3.12/kg.

However, this was after a week of very high prices, so care must be taken when looking at this week’s price drop.


It is difficult to determine how prices are going to maintain but it looks positive as beef is edging up again and a lot of farmers finishing stock at the moment will want to replace any cattle sent to factories.

Care must be taken, however, when doing budgets to ensure farmers are not buying too dear and that they are leaving room for a positive margin.

Spring-born weanlings, whether being finished as young bulls, sold as stores, or finished will spend a long time on the farm and it is very difficult to predict what prices will be when these animals are to be sold.

Therefore, must be frugal when purchasing animals to ensure they are running a profitable farming system.

Farmers must also be very careful this time of the year, especially on suckler farms as cows can become agitated during weaning time.

The evenings are getting shorter and where farmers are working off-farm, there can be a battle to get jobs done before dark.

Take your time and be careful as we want to reduce the number of farm accidents. Safe farming.

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