Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Optimising your weanlings' winter weight gain

When animals are returned to grass in the spring, farmers are sometimes disappointed with how their animals have performed over the winter period. Recent trials have shown an average daily gain of just 0.3kgs per day for some weanlings over the winter.

If animals are only growing at 0.25kgs per day or less they can become stunted and this will have serious consequences on the lifetime gain and finishing of these animals.

Therefore we need animals to thrive at a level above this. The optimum level of daily gain over the winter period is around 0.6kgs per day.

At this level there is still room for cheap compensatory gain at grass. To achieve a gain of 0.6kgs per day, meal would need to be fed at a rate of 1 - 2.5kgs per head per day depending on the quality of the silage. (See table below).

The following are some factors to consider for maximum weight gain.

Feed meals pre-housing so that animals are at or above target at housing

Front load the meal at the start of housing and this can be reduced or eliminated four to six weeks prior to turn out.

Batch weanlings according to their weight as lighter weanlings respond better to meal feeding than heavier weanlings.

Also Read

Early turnout to grass in the spring is as critical as meal feeding

Weanlings should not be overcrowded in the pen and should have adequate feed space at the trough. They should be housed according to their weight to prevent bullying at the feeding area.

Drinking troughs should be kept clean and they need to be checked daily.

They should have been treated at housing for worms, fluke and lice.

Housing can be a stressful event for a weanling so you need to ensure you do everything you can to minimise this stress so that their immune system is not compromised.

Check your weanlings for coughing in the month before housing and if you suspect lungworm, dose them and have them as clean as possible before housing. Depending on the product used and its timing, a repeat dose may be required as they all have different residual effects.

Monitoring performance

Depending on location, the winter period on farms in Ireland can represent between 25 and 40pc of the yearly production cycle on your farm.

Achieving good average daily gains during this period is essential in order to keep your farm's output high and reduce the days to slaughter.

Poor performance means extending the animals lifetime on the farm, increasing feed required, reducing stocking rate and ultimately reducing performance and profitability on your farm.

The best way to monitor performance on farm is by regular weighing of your animals.

Scales can be purchased and retained on farm for years of use, or alternatively ICBF have a number of weight recorders around the country that will weigh your cattle and leave you with a weight report on each individual animal.

All this information can be inputted on the ICBF website so that all animals can be monitored and an average daily gain and lifetime gain from birth calculated.

Animals should be weighed one to two weeks after housing, two to three months later and again at turn out if going back to grass, this will give a good indication as to how your animals are performing, otherwise you are shooting in the dark.

Regular weighing during the summer months is also very important.

All of the issues raised here need to be examined and resolved as a problem with any of them will reduce intake. This in turn will affect performance and hinder your progress in achieving 0.6kgs of average daily gain over the winter period.

Gordon Peppard is the programme advisor for Teagasc Green Acres email:


Was the correct  programme for worms,  fluke and lice followed?

Could rumen fluke be an issue?

Have they a continuous supply of fresh water?

Is feed in front of them kept fresh?

Have they enough trough space?

Was silage analysed and meal fed to match quality of silage?

Are there enough minerals and vitamins in the diet?

Have they adequate lying space?

Is their bedding dry?

Could ventilation be an issue?

Indo Farming