Calves can be successfully weaned when adequate rumen development has occurred, writes CAFRE's Christopher Breen.
Correct nutritional management of the calf will help improve rumen development in those early days. Through careful management, early weaning can be successful and help reduce the cost of rearing replacements.
Feed the calf milk or milk replacer at a rate of 10% of birth weight. The use of an accelerated growth programme has recently been highlighted. This consists of calves being fed up to 9 litres (1,350 g) of calf milk replacer daily.
Research shows that calves on this programme can achieve higher live weights pre and post-weaning compared to conventional feeding. However, the programme is more suited to units that have automatic calf feeders due to the volume of milk being fed.
During the first month of life, calves consume small quantities of calf starter. The aim is to offer 50-100 g from four days of age on a daily basis. Offering small amounts also keeps it fresh and encourages intake. Starter consumption is critical for adequate rumen development. Clean water is also important as water consumption encourages starter intake and supports the developing bacterial population in the rumen.
In most cases, calves can be weaned at six to eight-weeks, if they are consuming more than 1.0 kg of starter daily for three or more days.
Reduce milk levels gradually, ideally in the last week before target weaning age. Delay weaning for a week for calves that had scours, were off feed, fed poor quality starter or did not have water available.