Managing cows after weaning calves

AG ADVICE – March 2021

Brett Littler – Senior Land Services Officer, Livestock

It is about the time when people normally look at weaning their spring calves. With the season being so kind to us I am getting the question “Should I leave these calves on to try to keep the weight off the cows?”

This is a very individual question with a lot of interactions and options.

Firstly, there is very little benefit to having calves on cows after seven months and I tend to think it would be better to wean them earlier then that as there are a number of production benefits and efficiencies to weaning the calves off earlier, that is a dry cow can maintain itself on poorer feed and will enable you to prioritise the best quality feed for the weaners ensuring that they grow well and perform. When doing the nutritional sums, we find that the overall amount of feed required is less (less grass for the same gain).

So how to manage these cows once you wean the calves is the question?

To answer this question, we need to know what your cows are looking like. Are they too fat, just right or do they need a little bit more nick on them? Depending on your answer will determine the next move and I am sure there will be some variation in your cows.

Taking condition off cows is not something I would recommend or am a fan of. So, if your cows are a bit too fat then I would manage them the same as the just right or fat score 3-4 cows. This means that you want pastures that are of lower quality or at about 55-60% digestibility. This will be pastures that still have some green but have started to run up to head and are in late flowering. The chart below gives you a guide.

If your cows require some more condition/fat, then your target should be for above 60% digestibility or mid flowering or better. If it is not available then some targeted supplementation may be required.

Some producers are in the situation where their pastures are mainly above 60% digestibility and they want to hold their cows condition. It would then be an option to use cows as clean-up where they graze after another mob of either the weaner cattle or sheep. By having the cows come into a paddock after the weaners or sheep have been through means that the best quality feed will have been eaten out and the cows will be eating a poorer quality feed therefore manipulating the pasture to be of lesser quality.

There are also quite a few producers who are understocked and have a number of paddocks that have not received much, if any, grazing over spring and summer. These paddocks are generally poor in quality and are very suitable to put dry cows into when they only need to be maintained or can even loose a little weight. To start with the paddock will maintain these cows but once the green and better quality feed has been eaten out the paddock pasture may require some supplementation to improve utilisation of dry standing feed and ensure that the cows do not lose too much weight.

So get out there and wean your calves, assess your cows fat/condition and assess your pastures to make the most of this season.

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