Look at the advantages of early weaning to save breeders

Scattered showers and sight of a green tinge in pastures may provide some optimism for a change in the present drought conditions.

Everyone will be hoping we have seen the last of the severe frosts that turned any standing pastures into cardboard.

But beef cattle specialists are urging producers to remain proactive when it comes to managing their herds.

As unless there is a substantial seasonal break spring calving cows are faced with a tough outlook – first to rear their calves and foot and then ideally go back in calf.

“I can’t give producers a magic solution to present conditions other than to say it’s vital to make decisions early to keep those cows in the best possible condition,” says beef cattle consultant Bill Hoffman.

Casino based Mr Hoffman is currently assisting Hunter Local Land Services’s staff providing advice to beef producers in the Hunter and Manning.

He said there were usually three options available during droughts, feed cattle – now too dear, agistment –none available or sell.

Calves can be weaned from 100kg provided they are fed high quality rations.

Calves can be weaned from 100kg provided they are fed high quality rations.

“So my advice is to continually look at reducing numbers because it reduces feed costs and stocking pressure,” he said.

“Look at your cattle and sell the ones you don’t think will contribute to the future of your business – that choice can be based on age, genetics or temperament or a combination of traits,” he said.

His other option for spring calving females was to early wean their calves based on the fact:

  • Cow and calve units need double the feed of a dry cow
  • Cows and calves weaned and fed separately require 30 per cent less feed
  • Early weaning can improve cow body weight, cycling and conception rates

Once you wean the calf off the cow and feed separately, the amount of feed required for maintenance drops substantially, usually by as much as 30-40% less feed in total – 7kg of good quality hay for the 500kg cow and 3.5kg of good quality hay for a 200kg weaner.

The health of both the cow and calf will also improve. It is important to note this example relates to good quality hay, please consider the nutritional value of feed you are supplying your stock if comparing to these figures. 

For example: A 500kg lactating cow will require 13kg of good quality hay (8.5 MJ/kg/DM) per day to maintain condition with no paddock feed available.

Mr Hoffman said calves can be weaned at 100kg but they must be fed on a high protein diet.

“Calves at those weights don’t need too much feed but its has to be high quality and their health needs to be closely monitored. Done correctly it can work really well,” he said.