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How to Avoid the Post Weaning Slump

By Rebecca Richards 3 years ago

Rearing heifer replacements is the second largest cost on farm, accounting for 20% of total farm costs (FeedforGrowth, 2016) Nobody wants to throw that hard earned money away, so it’s vital that calves don’t suffer from a post weaning check.

Although most farms today view 8 weeks as the ideal weaning target, it’s crucial that other factors are taken into consideration.

Calves are not born ruminants, although they do possess microscopic papillae, so they are genetically programmed to become ruminants, but there is a long process before we can safely call an animal a ruminant. In the first four weeks of life the calf relies heavily on milk as its main source of nutrients for survival and growth, systems such as once a day feeding are simply not efficient during this period of life as calves will not consume enough starter and are not yet properly developed to fully utilise it.

Enhanced Feeding Programmes

There is much focus on enhanced feeding programmes in the industry at present, where calves will consume sometimes over a kilo of powder, this is perfectly acceptable providing it is a good quality, digestible product. If you want to gain DLWG of a kilo, you have to put more than a kilo of powder in, especially if you want to capitalise on that all important early feed conversion.

Intakes at weaning should be one of the key criteria for weaning. Calves that have been on an enhanced milk feeding programme are sometimes at more of a risk of experiencing a weaning check and sometimes it can be for such simple reasons such as not providing enough water and limiting calf feed availability.

Traditionally, weaning protocols have dictated that calves should be eating 1kg of concentrate for three consecutive days for weaning to commence, but this is not the case today.  A calf needs to eat double the amount of calf feed as what they received in milk powder, for example a calf consuming 175g/L at a rate of 8L a day would need to be eating 2.8kg of Start n Wean for three consecutive days before weaning can commence, this is easily achievable and we currently have several herds feeding milk at this rate through a H&L100 machine and calves are consuming the required amount of calf feed.

Developing the rumen

Rumen development is driven by the fermentation of calf feed by rumen bacteria. The acids created by rumen fermentation encourage papillae development in the rumen. Rumen papillae are responsible for absorbing the products of fermentation, used to produce energy. It is therefore very important to drive dry feed intakes to promote papillae growth and thus create a sound rumen to prepare the calf for a non – milk based diet creating a sound rumen to drive the future performance of the animal.

We should consider the first eight weeks of a calves life as the process of putting together the engine that will drive that animals future production. I often use the example of having two Ferraris that look identical, have the same price tag but when you open up the bonnet, nobody wants to see a Fiat 500 engine! A poorly developed rumen will never produce a milky heifer.

Importance of water

But it’s not all about calf feed intake, water is crucial to support rumen development and to avoid weaning checks. A calf needs to drink 4L of water per every 1kg of dry feed consumed. At weaning, calves on a high plane of nutrition need to be drinking almost 12L of water, if you have water buckets and only one per pen of calves, it is crucial to add additional water buckets in the last two weeks of weaning.

Ideally, we should be moving away from using water buckets and moving to self - filling water bowls, these will ensure clean water is available at all times, try to avoid the small bowls, use bigger ones to make water drinking easier and more appealing to calves. Even in the first week of life where calves eat little to no dry feed, they will still drink water, this is how they regulate their bodies and excrete excess minerals.

Grouping CalvesLifestart Logo

Grouping calves before weaning is also a very important factor and research shows us that calves grouped before weaning have higher dry feed intakes and are heavier at weaning.

Of course we do need to pay consideration to other weaning criteria, such as doubling their birth weight, but nowadays if you’re feeding a good quality milk powder and starter feed there’s no reason why calves can’t more than double their birth weights.

Weaning calves at 10 weeks old rather than 8 weeks old, is advisable when following an enhanced feeding programme. Why not give our Wynngold Turbo Start or Wynngold Rich Cream a try as part of your enhanced feeding programme and join the growing number of LifeStart farmers.

Visit the LifeStart website for more information.

Written by Rebecca Richards – Calf Specialist

Follow @richardscalf1

Posted in: Dairy Farming