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Weaning calves: creep grazing, concentrates, nose flaps and pneumonia

As weaning is a stressful time for calves, it can result in a check-in performance, writes CAFRE’s Nigel Gould.

Measures taken to reduce the cow-calf bond and boost the immune system in advance of weaning will reduce the severity of the growth check.

Introduce creep grazing to allow calves access to the higher quality grass ahead of the cows. The cows can then be used to clean out paddocks; this can be done at low cost by raising part of the electric fence.

Alternatively, the gate propped slightly ajar and held securely will create a funnel effect between the gate and gate post; this allows the calves access to creep grazing.

Creep grazing can also facilitate supplementary feeding of concentrates pre-weaning.

Concentrates

Offering concentrate for four to six weeks before weaning reduces the calf’s dependency on the cow. This helps to avoid the growth check at weaning. It is important the concentrate does not simply replace quality grazed grass in the diet.

Generally, 2.0-3.0 kg of concentrates per calf per day is offered, depending on calf type.

Well-conformed continental-type bull calves are generally good convertors of concentrate to lean muscle without excess fat deposition.

In this case, a response of 1.0 kg additional live weight gain per 4.0-6.0 kg of concentrate is achievable.

A simple concentrate mix can be offered provided quality ingredients are used.

It should have a crude protein of 16% and a metabolisable energy of 12.5 MJ/kg dry matter.

An example of a mix is: 57.5% barley, 25% beet pulp, 15% soyabean meal and 2.5% minerals/vitamins.

Keep troughs clean and concentrate fresh at all times to minimise spoilage.

Nose flaps

Some farmers are now using devices such as nose flaps to successfully reduce the cow-calf bond. These are fitted to the noses of calves and prevent suckling while calves remain with their dams.

It removes milk from the calf’s diet while retaining the comfort of the dam. The calves can then be fully weaned after a short period of time.

Gradual weaning, where a proportion of cows are removed from the group while their calves remain in the field with the other cows and calves, may also reduce calf stress at weaning.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia in calves can be more common around weaning time due to a suppressed immune system.

Vaccination can reduce incidences of pneumonia as long as good management is still practiced. Vaccination generally requires two doses of the vaccine administered three weeks apart.

The initial dose is required up to six weeks pre-weaning for some products to achieve maximum immunity by weaning time.

Treat internal parasites two weeks pre-weaning where possible.

Calves with lungworm burdens, in particular, will be put under increased stress if dosing coincides with weaning.

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