Australian livestock farmers are faced with difficult decisions everyday. Some of these decisions have a greater impact on a season’s bottom line than others. Weaning is one of the decisions that can have a major bearing on this and next season.
Whether you are weaning lambs or calves, there are many decisions that have to be made around this critical period. So, what are the most important questions to be asked, and where can the answers be found?
Best practice and/or general knowledge dictate a simple balancing act to ensure success for this and next season. This balancing act includes getting your lambs or calves onto the best feed possible, so that they reach sale weight quickly and efficiently. At the same time, you must ensure there is adequate feed available to carry ewes into the next season in a condition that will enhance their chances of conceiving, especially conceiving multiples.
Even during an ideal season, this is easier said than done!
With a dry season, this balancing act can become increasingly difficult. At times, it also becomes incredibly costly.
Selling lambs or calves at an inopportune time can lead to money left on the table, or weight left in the paddock. However, holding lambs or calves too long can mean a decrease in the quality and/or quantity of feed available for your ewes or cows.
To learn the best steps producers can take outside of this balancing act to improve both present and future seasons, we spoke with Rick White BVSc, Chief Livestock Agronomist of Grow™ (a division of Elanco Animal Health).
During an education session on best weaning practices, Dr. White revealed that many producers, for seemingly good reason, focus solely on putting their lambs and calves on the highest quality feed possible. While their aim is to ensure young livestock are able to gain weight efficiently, a potential issue arises due to that same high-quality feed. This feed is often challenging for weaners to process, contributing to subpar or even negative weight gains over critical weeks.
While Dr. White can explain this in far more detail and clarity the overall concepts are as follows:
While Dr. White can explain this in far more detail and clarity. The overall concepts are as follows:
In lambs and calves, the main “engine” (as Dr. White put it) for the production of energy and protein, the rumen, has not yet developed a population of bacteria sizeable enough to efficiently break down high quality feed.
Weaners are taken from their mothers, and put onto what is assumed to be the best pasture to jump-start weight gain. However, because this critical bacteria, and the rumen as a whole, are underdeveloped (to continue the metaphor, with the engine still at 1000 RPM), weaners struggle to gain or even maintain weight in these first few weeks of feeding. This is all due to the fact that the weaned calf or lamb’s underutilised rumen simply cannot break down feed efficiently.
I asked Dr. White for his advice on combating this paradoxical relationship between providing exceptionally high quality feed and ensuring the weaner can digest it.
Dr. White repeatedly stressed that, because each pasture is different, the best way to get a handle on what is best for your weaners is to fill out an Operational Plan. He also added:
“To help a weaner maintain high growth rates after weaning it’s important to ensure that the animal is in good health, the rumen is able to rapidly adapt to the new diet and the rumen architecture is developed as quickly as possible. This means attention to all appropriate animal health treatments, and supplementing the pasture to meet the nutritional requirements for both the rumen’s microbiology system and the animal. Starch in the diet always gets the attention because it’s the key driver of fermentation in the rumen, however, it’s always about the balance of the whole diet.”
Weaning represents the key point in every livestock producer’s year when significant gains can be made and profited from if the correct decisions are made.
When operating independently, it seems livestock producers must add “Bacterial Growth” to their laundry list of professional expertise in order to ensure they get the most from every weaner, their pastures, and their farm as a whole.
Fortunately, there are professionals like Dr. Rick White that are passionate about passing along their years of knowledge to assist producers all across Australia!
We are proud to be partnering with Rick and the Grow Team to assist producers in making better on-farm decisions ensuring they get the most out of their farm.
For more information on this topic or to learn more about the Grow Program or the AgriWebb Operational Planner, contact the AgriWebb team here.