Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Prudent preparation is key to success at sales

Creep feed, reduce stress and vaccinate to boost weanling profits

Whether our weanlings are destined for export or the home trade, buyers want top-notch product, so we must work to supply such high-end animals for sale
Whether our weanlings are destined for export or the home trade, buyers want top-notch product, so we must work to supply such high-end animals for sale

Peadar O Scanaill

WE ARE fast approaching weanling sales time where suckler farmers reap the rewards of their labours. Some weanlings will be sold for export and more are destined for the home trade. In either case a premium product is required and we must work to supply such a premium item for sale. We can all remember the autumn of 2006 when the export trade collapsed and weanling prices dropped by €200/hd.

Since the introduction of the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme, weanling health has been improved dramatically and more can be done. During the discussions that set up that scheme, it was recognised that more than 50pc of farmers did not dose their weanlings during the summer months. A fool-hardy approach indeed. Even though clinical signs are not visible, hoose larvae are doing damage to the lungs all the time. During periods of stress viruses enter the picture and it becomes a lethal combination.

Dose your weanlings two to three times at least during the grazing season. Be accurate with the weight assessment and use sufficient doses accordingly. The dosing interval will depend upon the product used.

Proper and stress-free weaning is very important in producing a value product. Gradual removal of the cows is worthwhile so that weanlings are not being moved away from the majority of their cohorts. They are less stressed while some dams remain with the group.

An electric fence is useful to allow visual contact during weaning, with dams at one side and weanlings at the other. Creep feeding cannot be over emphasised as part of the process as it leaves calves a lot less dependent on their mother's milk for nutrition. Start them creep feeding at a light rate and aim to be creep feeding six to eight weeks before weaning. It is also a stressful time for the cows at weaning so ensure magnesium intake is covered to avoid tetany in the adult cow.

A sudden change in weather at weaning time can add to the stress and precipitate tetany. Magnesium boluses are useful as it is a one-off administration and does not need daily intake of water or feed rich in magnesium.

Vaccination is another very important tool in producing healthy weanlings, as was shown by the WEP scheme in 2007. The scheme reopened the doors of a lot of European markets, as well as giving our own very important home buyers the confidence to go back into the trade. IBR is the main virus involved as well as RSV and PI3. Antibiotics will not work against them, so the only option is to vaccinate.

In optimal circumstances this should be done a few weeks prior to weaning so that maximum immunity is achieved. You should consult your veterinary surgeon on the best programme to suit your farm.

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People tend to think that vaccination is only for animals for the export market, but talk to any home buyer who has had an outbreak of pneumonia and I don't think he would agree.

Following the last few very inclement years and a big rise in both liver and stomach fluke, it is now considered very prudent to be dosing weanlings towards the end of summer. From August on, a big percentage of lamb livers are condemned at the factory and weanlings are grazing the same ground.

Therefore, the young livers of these weanlings are being damaged beyond repair and this will lead to poor thrift if not death. We also recommend vaccinating against the clostridial diseases as there has been a significant increase in blackleg in the last few years.

In summary, it is prudent to prepare for weaning. Creep feeding, reduced stress, worm and vaccination programmes all lead to a healthier and more saleable weanling. This, over the years, will lead to a stronger market both at home and abroad. Let the Irish weanling be a much sought after product and don't be afraid to announce at your sales all that has been done for that batch.

Irish Independent