A Guide To Weaning

Weaning is the point when calves transfer from a liquid to solid diet. Weaning can be carried out successfully only when the rumen has developed sufficiently to support the fermentation and digestion of solid feed.

Here’s Four Factors for Successful Weaning From Any Rearing System

  • Fresh water available at all times – to encourage rumen development.
  • High quality starter feed available but offered in small quantities fresh each day.
  • Access to long fibre, for example straw in racks to encourage solid feed intake.
  • Eating minimum 1kg of solid feed daily for three consecutive days.

Rumen Development Can Be Influenced by Diet

  1. Irrespective of your type of rearing system, easy access to fresh water and calf starter from the beginning of the rearing period will aid earlier rume
  2. Introducing ad lib, clean straw – preferably barley will encourage a healthy well developed rumen.

When to Wean

Rather than agreeing a fixed time, weaning is best done when the calf is consuming a minimum daily target of 1kg of solid feed for three consecutive days. Some calves achieve this at around five weeks, whilst others will take almost eight weeks. Remember that your calf naturally consumes milk for at least this length of time. A minimum target of doubling the calf’s birth-weight should be achieved before weaning.

You can adopt one of two weaning strategies:

Abrupt – Immediate Switching From Liquid to Solid Diet

This method can lead to significant growth setbacks if the calf’s rumen has not developed sufficiently to digest and utilise solid feed efficiently at this stage. The result is that the nutrient uptake from the solid feed cannot completely replace the nutrients previously supplied by milk.

Remember, if a calf is consuming 1kg/day of solid feed and four litres of milk at 12.5% concentration one day before weaning, it needs to consume almost 2kg/day solid feed the day after weaning to replace the energy previously supplied by the milk.