Early weaning is a strategy to combat feed and water challenges faced during prolonged dry seasonal conditions.
There are a number of key reasons for early weaning which includes maintaining herd fertility, saving pasture and reducing the dry sheep equivalent demand.
Cows that have had their calves weaned early can be shifted to more marginal country so only ‘growing’ stock are run in the best paddocks.
Weaning cows early also leads to better use of supplementary feed as cows will need less feeding later on because they will have lower weight loss once calves are weaned.
Early weaning can also reduce water requirements of cows by up to 60 per cent.
It will enable earlier pregnancy testing and mouthing and the earlier sale of non-productive, cull or aged animals.
At 12 weeks old or about 120kg, calves should be weaned as they require less protein and are easier to feed.
In a drought, all calves older than five to six months should be weaned and fed separately.
When deciding to wean, early weaning is the best policy but the cow's condition needs to be considered.
Calves with dry, coarse coats (woody calves) are almost certainly not receiving adequate milk from their mothers.
Calves with glossy coats are receiving an adequate diet and early weaning can be delayed.
Before weaning calves should be exposed to the post-weaning supplement while they are still on the cow, such as silage.
Consider introducing calves to post-weaning supplements slowly via creep-feeding two weeks before weaning.
For post-weaning nutrition, the younger the weaning age of the calf, the higher the energy and protein levels need to be.
Much of the pasture hay and silage made in Australia is by itself unsuitable for early-weaned calves.
When weaning into containment areas calves will tend to rest and feed, conserving energy and minimising damage to paddocks.
Six weeks after weaning, draft off tail-enders into a separate management group.
Repeat this process four months after weaning.
For more information, visit: feedinglivestock.vic.gov.au and for more information about managing during drought conditions, go to: agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons