We have been yard weaning for about 20 years. We were involved in research on this topic conducted by the Dept of Ag about 1990. Yard weaning and training were shown to significantly reduce illness and death when weaners are introduced into feedlots.
Recent publicity in “The Land” has re-visited the subject. There was an article last week publicising a proprietary weaning program costing about $20 per head. Quoted in the newspaper Mr Foster of Grazag said instead of losing weight through the weaning process, producers could expect their animals to gain weight, with Grazag clients using the ALG advanced weaning system averaging 750 grams a day gain across the two to three weeks from the start of weaning.
Today we re-weighed our weaners 22 days after weaning and they had gained an average of 20 kg or about 1 kg per day. The range in growth over this period was 0.7 to 1.3 kg / day. The calves had averaged 1.35 kg gain per day to weaning so the weaning process does result in a setback.
We use no special supplements or proprietary compounds. We do take weaning seriously and this is how we do it.
Firstly we make sure that the calves understand feed and water troughs before the actual weaning. We put out temporary feed troughs for the cows and calves about 2 weeks before weaning. We feed a small ration for cows and calves to teach the calves about feed supplements and to acclimatise their rumen microflora and guts to hard feed. Feeding the herd gets the calves accustomed to humans at close quarters.
At weaning we put the bulls and steers in one yard and heifers in another with their mothers in an adjacent paddocks. Cows are fed only rough hay. All fences are electrified.
We put a round bale hay feeder in each yard and feed about 2 kg of meal per head per day to the weaners. This year we used Dried Distillers Grains as the energy and protein source. While in the yards we walk around the calves and note any animal showing bad temperament. Animals showing stress or any bad behaviour such as kicking are marked for culling.
We take the weaners out of the yards after about a week and put them into the best paddock we can find. This autumn is the driest for many years and the pasture is sparse. We have continued to provide a small daily ration to supplement available pasture.
While weaning obviously produces a setback our weaners continue to put on weight before the onset of winter. Because we have such a harsh winter our cattle make no weight gain from April to August. Maximising weight gain before winter helps them through winter and sets them up to make best use of the spring flush.