Creep feeding weanlings
On farms selling weanlings it’s coming to the time of year where creep feeding is starting. If cows have adequate milk and you have a good supply of quality grass, you may get good calf liveweight gains but on many farms early calved cows’ milk yields will be low and grass quality is questionable from July onwards.
You can expect a conversion rate of 6kg meal to 1kg of concentrates if 2kg are fed across the board to bulls and heifers. Bulls will have a better conversion ratio.
If we take current weanling rations at €470/t that means it costs €2.82 per calf to put on 1kg of liveweight.
Weanlings are making €2.60-€3.20 depending on quality, so if we take an average price of €2.90/kg the return is marginal.
However, there are a lot of other benefits to feeding meal around weaning time, including reducing stress levels which can sometimes lead to the onset of pneumonia.
For the better-quality weanlings there is a clear return, while lower-quality animals will have a reduced conversion ratio and a reduced price so the return will be marginal.
Weanlings for sale will benefit most from extra feeding. Looking at this week’s MartBids analysis of weanling prices in 2022 v 2021, it’s interesting to note that the price hasn’t gone up as much for heavier weanlings in 2022 as it has for lighter weanlings.
Farmers should weigh up the costs and returns of pushing weanlings to heavier weights. The current figures on prices and costs would suggest that weanlings would be better moved at a lighter weight this year.
Aim for a simple ration with a good cereal like barley, a source of digestible fibre like soya hulls or beet pulp and a good protein source like soya bean meal.
Allowing calves to creep graze into adjacent paddocks will help to boost weight gains and also help to reduce the cow-calf bond in advance of weaning.
Intakes in creep feeders can be very variable, with stronger calves hogging the trough. Feeding in a trough in an adjacent field, while more labour intensive, is a better way of making sure all calves are eating.
With autumn calving getting into full swing on some farms, monitoring is key to avoid any losses. Where calving is taking place outdoors, it is advisable to move cows nearing calving to a maternity paddock near the yard – or somewhere close where they can be watched regularly during the day.
Mature cows may not be a major concern, but first- and second-calving cows should be moved if possible. If intervention is required, they can be easily moved into a yard or pen for handling.
In general, if calving is not progressing after one to two hours after the water bag has burst, then the cow should be handled using gloves to ensure it is dilated and that the calf is in the correct position.
Calving cameras are great for keeping an eye on things at night or when away from the yard. Don’t forget to supplement autumn-calving cows with minerals before calving.
Having a calving gate in a shed is invaluable where you have to intervene and is a must on any farm calving cows.