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Preparing your dairy-beef calves for turnout

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It is essential that the calves are well prepared for being let out to grass. They should be put out to grass when they are strong enough and the weather is mild, writes Vincent Ronayne, Drystock Advisor, Ballinrobe.

Most of the March-born bucket fed calves are now approaching the time when they will be let out to grass. At this stage, it is essential that the calves are well prepared for this event.

Rumen development

It is important that all calves have had access to roughage to develop their rumen.

Straw is seen as better than hay for this purpose as the fibrous nature of straw has a better effect on the development of the rumen and prevents what is commonly referred to as a “potbelly” bucket-fed calf. The sharp strong edges of the straw prick the inner surface of the rumen leading to it developing quicker.

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Coarse ration instead of pelleted feed is advisable also in the early stages for the same reason. Rolled barley, flaked maize and beet pulp stimulate the rumen.

Feeding excessive amounts of meal at this stage is also not advisable as the digestive system must be capable of handling grass when calves are let out.

Turnout

Calves should not be weaned off milk unless they are eating 1kg of concentrate per calf per day and reach a target weight of 85-90kgs.

They should be put out to grass when they are strong enough and the weather is mild. Concentrates should be fed at similar levels to pre-release (1kg per calf per day).

If the calves have access to high-quality grass they should be fed meal for one month, however where grass quality is average then it will be necessary to feed concentrates throughout the summer if the calves are to put on the required weight in the first year.

Calves should always be the first to graze the paddock followed by older stock. This will minimise worm infestations.

Dosing

On the question of dosing, a close eye should be kept on calves during the first year for parasite infestations. Routine dosing was once considered the norm, however recent research shows a better response from timely and targeted dosing. This means calves are dosed when required not on a date marked on the calendar.

Allowing low levels of worm and hoose infection will build up immunity in the animal for year two. A simple check for hoose is to run the calves for a short time and observe any coughing.

Generally, if there is no coughing then hoose is not an issue. As with the use of all medicines, vaccines, and wormers, it is important that you do so in consultation with your vet.

Herding

Herding is also an important aspect of rearing calves. This should be done at least twice a day and not from the driving seat of the jeep or car. Calves should be stirred up and walked through.

All healthy calves lying for a period of time when stirred up will automatically stretch if given time to do so.  Calves that do not stretch after rising early in the morning usually indicate a problem and further observation is required.

As the summer progresses it is important to keep quality grass in front of the calves so that they are not forced to eat lesser quality grass thus leading to reduced productivity. Topping and fertilizer use will address this issue.

Remember, a weaned dairy beef calf should be gaining 0.75Kgs per day. If this is not being achieved, then the grass quality and parasite burden needs to be looked at.

Feeding meal may be required but this only covers up a failing in the calf rearing system and costs money. Having healthy stock and quality grass will reduce the cost of production, which is critical given the price pressure cattle farmers are under due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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