Six steps to weaning calves off the bucket
There are six key target areas to successful weaning of your bucket-reared calves. Planning for successful weaning from milk to solid food starts from the time the calf first arrives on the farm.
Many February and early March born calves will be weaned in the next few weeks - the key area targets to be met at weaning are:
• You need to target the birth weight of the calf to double within eight weeks. Therefore a 40kg calf at birth needs to be at least 80kgs at weaning. To ensure the calf reaches this milestone, up to 750g of milk replacer in six litres of milk per day needs to have been fed.
The calf needs to have 24-hour availability of fresh clean water, straw and a fresh palatable good quality concentrate of 18pc protein. Water is essential to replace fluids that are being used up in the body. Milk should be seen as a food source and not a drink.
• Calves must be consuming at least 1kg of concentrate per day for at least three consecutive days.
Concentrates are important to develop the rumen, and to replace the milk in the diet.
To replace four litres of milk replacer (500g of milk powder) your calf will need to eat an extra 1kg of concentrate per day.
Gradual or Abrupt weaning
• Gradual weaning is preferred as the concentrate and or volume of milk fed is reduced over a number of days and the calf makes up the difference in other feedstuffs.
Abrupt weaning is when milk is cut out abruptly and the calf has to rely solely on other feedstuffs straight away.
• Minimise stress or change at weaning. Avoid activities such as dehorning, castration, vaccination, changing social groups at weaning and leave the calf housed for one week after weaning.
•Do not wean calves if they are stressed, underweight or sick. These calves should be retained on milk replacer until they meet the required weight or recover from illness.
Target fresh leafy grass of a lower cover of 7-8 cm for the weaned calf. Continue to feed 1kg of concentrate for at least one month or more if required
No two farms are the same, so it is important to consider all options, taking into account your particular circumstances and overall objectives, when deciding which weaning policy is best for you.
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