That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane speaks to Keith Fahy (KF) B &T Drystock Advisor Teagasc Galway/Clare. They discuss preparing weanlings for sale: vaccinating, meal feeding and stress-feeding weaning options.
TF: What advice would you give farmers who are preparing weanlings for sale?
KF: With weanling sales increasing week on week throughout the country, we see a great demand and superior prices to match.
Prices for weanlings are up on the same period last year. Farmers selling weanlings should begin preparing 6 to 8 weeks before sale.
Many suckler farmers are participating in the BEEP-S Scheme, and as an optional part of the scheme, farmers could choose between meal feeding or vaccinating against respiratory diseases.
For most applications for BEEP-S, which I completed for farmers, the vast majority chose the meal feeding option. The requirement for this action is to meal feed weanlings four weeks before weaning and two weeks post-weaning.
Where farmers are selling weanlings, they need to factor this into account as their sale date will depend on this, and proof of meal dockets are also required should the farmer get inspected.
Ensuring weanlings have a nice shine, are clean and presentable, are not dirty/loose behind and that weanlings do not have any horns is vital as this can put certain buyers off, thus may impact price.
Also, ensure that strong male calves are separated from heifers. This can come back to haunt farmers that will be selling strong mature heifer weanlings.
Some heifers, where thriving well, can start cycling from as young as 6 months of age. All these factors may seem minor but will all benefit both seller and buyer when managed correctly.
TF: How can farmers minimise stress at weaning time?
KF: When weaning calves from cows, it is paramount that you keep stress on both cow and calf to an absolute minimum.
Weaning is the most stressful time in an animal’s life as the maternal – offspring bond is being broken whilst also changing the calf’s diet.
There are a number of ways in which farmers can reduce stress when weaning calves. Ideally, calves will not be abruptly weaned. Below are some ways you can reduce stress at weaning:
- Meal feed weanlings for a min of 4 weeks before weaning
- Forward creep-graze calves. This gets the cows and calves used to spending more time apart;
- Nose flaps can also aid in removing milk from the diet whilst the cows and calves are still together;
- Try and avoid housing as a method of weaning cows and calves as you are completely changing the animals environment, diet and this can cause respiratory diseases where animals are stressed;
- Ensure that animals do not have a worm burden before weaning. Faecal egg sample and dose accordingly;
- Ensure cows are in good condition. Consider weaning some of the heavier calves on thinner cows to help boost cow condition before housing.
TF: Is meal feeding a justifiable investment?
KF: Meal feeding weanlings is an excellent way to complement grass and milk, thus improving daily live weight gain in weanlings.
Meal feeding also helps to reduce the stress at weaning, and animals will be better adapted to a grass and meal only diet. Feeding meal to weanlings offers the best return on investment than at any other time during the animal’s lifetime. This is due to the high feed conversion ratio that weanlings have versus older finishing cattle.
Weanlings have a feed conversion of approximately 6:1 versus half this at 12:1 when animals go over two years of age.
This simply means that a weanling only has to eat 6 kilos of dry matter to put on 1 kg of live weight. So by feeding on the younger animal, you get the best bang for your buck.
When meal feeding, consider the following:
- Introduce at 0.5-1kg/day to start off;
- Feed a high energy 16% Crude Protein Ration/Nut;
- A simple 3-way mix with minerals along with good grass will suffice;
- Ensure meal is kept dry and rodent-free;
- The level of feeding will depend on breed & sex. Overfeeding traditional-type breeds may cause animals to get too fat;
- Feed good quality muscly bulls up to 3-4kg/day;
- Also, you can feed heifers up to 2-2.5 kg/day;
- Although weanling rations are expensive at approximately over €300/tonne, there is still a financial gain in supplementing along with good grass.
Preparing weanlings for sale: How to add values to your animals
Good quality continental bulls can gain 1.4/1.5kg/day, while heifers should do 1.1 – 1.3kg/day.
By feeding 2 kg per day along with good grass, this will cost the farmer approx. 64c/day (Assuming 2kg/day at €320/tonne).
According to weanling prices, looking at the Martbids database, average quality weanlings are trading at approximately €2.61/kg between 300 to 400kg weight bracket.
If we assume that weanlings are putting on 1.3kg/day @€2.61/kg, this is generating €3.39/day. Taking away the meal price, there is still a healthy margin of €2.75 to cover all other costs.
So by meal feeding, presenting clean and healthy animals, ensuring no horns etc., farmers can add value to their animals.
Animal health: What should farmers treat/vaccine weanlings for?
When we look at the weanlings in terms of animal health, there are a few ways in which we can help to ensure animals will thrive and improve output.
It is vital that young growing animals are worm-free, as a worm burden will reduce thrive and subsequently cost the farmer in the long run.
Animals should be faecal egg sampled before treating for worms etc. By doing this, we can see exactly what type of worms/fluke the animals have (If any) and treat them accordingly.
This will also reduce the likelihood of animals becoming resistant to certain wormers and will have a more effective kill.
Also, by faecal egg sampling, you may find out that the cattle are worm-free and may not need to be dosed.
Vaccinating for respiratory diseases is also another way farmers can reduce the likelihood of animals suffering from respiratory issues such as pneumonia.
Bovine Respiratory Diseases is the term used to explain lung/airway disease in bovines.
The four main types of respiratory diseases in cattle in Ireland are:
- Pasteurella Multocida;
- Mannheimia Haemolytica;
- Mycoplasma bovis;
Vaccinating is also part of the optional tasks in the BEEP-S scheme. Farmers if vaccinating for pneumonia, should also know how many shots/doses the animals need to get and the duration between each dose.
Some of these vaccinations need to be administered 6 to 8 weeks before housing. Depending on the date of housing, farmers need to decide soon if they are going to incorporate a vaccination programme on their farms.
TF: What final piece of advice would you like to offer to That’s Farming readers?
KF: Always when separating cows and weanlings, make sure that you do so carefully. This is an extremely stressful time for both farmer and beast.
Take care when separating. Try and ensure gates are hanging; handlers are experienced, always have a stick and ensure no young children/vulnerable people are around as cows can become easily agitated when separating calves. Farm safely.
That’s Farming will publish the second half of this interview covering weanling prices and if farmers should group their weanlings in pairs.
That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, recently spoke to Francis Bligh (FB), Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist. They discussed farm accidents in Ireland and how farmers can reduce fatalities and serious injuries. Read this article.
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