Article Summary: Profitability is a non-negotiable for any beef cattle producer, and it all starts with a solid breeder and grazing management approach. Timing mating and weaning will result in better growth rates, improved feed efficiency, and less stress on your calves. By diagnosing pregnancies, you'll gain insight into conception rates, calving patterns and spread, helping you decide which cows to cull, separate or sell, as well as maximising your herd's fertility. All this adds up to better management, improved profits, and healthier animals.
The benefits of early weaning are well documented and vast but have you ever wondered how the most successful beef farms are profitable? They keep weaning rates high through a rigorous timing and testing program.
Timing and pregnancy testing will result in better growth rates, improved feed efficiency, and less stress on the calves, as well as maximising your herd's fertility. By determining the optimal weaning age for your cattle, you can ensure that your calves are weaned when ready and able to handle the transition. This results in more rapid growth, higher weaning weights, and a reduction in overall costs. Knowing the optimal weaning age, you can adjust their feed rations to ensure they get the most out of your feed resources. And by understanding your conception rates and cattle spread through pregnancy testing, you can better understand which animals to keep, cull or replace. This all leads to better farm management and higher profits.
Let's examine why testing and timing are important and how you can manage this on your beef farm.
Weaning rates need to be kept high more than ever
The profitability of beef businesses is non-negotiable. But it is only achieved by maintaining high weaning rates and low mortality rates in the breeder herd.
In previous decades, many northern Australian herds had weaning rates below 60% and mortality rates above 10%. Farmers typically sold a few cull cows while keeping heifers within the breeder herd. Farms remained viable by giving older steers time to put on weight; however, with better management, improved breeds, and supplements, productivity has increased in recent years. Local and international markets now require younger steers and heifers, so weaning rates must be around 75% to stay profitable. As a farmer, you can accomplish this through good weaning management and the adequate feeding of smaller weaners.
Profitability starts with good breeder & grazing management
To produce one calf yearly, a cow must get pregnant within 75 days of calving. To provide the best chance for conception, she must have a body condition score (BCS) of 3 or higher when she calves. To further support this, your breeder and grazing management approaches must match feeding requirements adequately. This involves managing the breeder herd, their nutritional demands and pasture rigorously. Such breeder management strategies include:
Timing mating to ensure the calf's peak milk requirement at two and three months matches your highest pasture quality
Timing weaning to remove nutritional demands on the cow during times of lower pasture quality
Giving supplementary feed to allow for nutritional inadequacies.
Timing the mating of your herd is vital to maintaining high weaning rates and ensuring optimum body condition, which drives cow fertility.
Timing seasonal mating
Under seasonal mating, calves should be dropped just before the wet season so that peak milk demand from the growing calf coincides with peak pasture growth and quality. Aiming for a body condition score of 3 or better at calving is important. To achieve this, manage the cycle of body weight and condition of the breeder cow throughout the year.
Timing mating on large properties
Continuous mating is more common and advisable on very large properties where seasonal mating is not practical. However, dry cows can conceive with the flush of new grass when the wet season starts, leading to calves being born in the middle of the next dry season and losing too much condition before the next wet season. This can cause the calf drop to become out of phase with the grass season. You should wean small calves in first and second-round musters to encourage survival and optimum condition.
All calves over three months of age can be weaned in April–May, and those over two months old at a second muster, August through September. These small weaners must be fed and managed well. Did you know that weaning in April–May can save the cow 10– 15kg of live weight per month? That's equivalent to about one BCS in three months.
If grasses flower late in the growing season, the pasture quality can quickly deteriorate, resulting in a cow producing only a few litres of milk and having a BCS of 1-2 by the time of the 'normal' weaning. To prevent this, wean your calf before the cow loses too much condition. This will allow her to conceive again at the next mating.
Supplements: What to feed calves after weaning
Like with any young, feeding success can vary, depending on the individual. Novelty and digestive adjustment can result in reduced feed intake, so it pays to work closely with your veterinarian to administer a tailored feed program.
There are also a lot of different suggestions on calf diet. Still, a good rule of thumb is to begin feeding starter grain before weaning and continue providing the dry mix grain until they are ready to adapt to a high-moisture feed, like legume-based silage, then onto a higher-fibre diet.
Supplements are a good idea throughout the process. Licks or blocks during the dry season can help maintain BCS. However, they rarely increase weight, even in lactating cows. Energy supplements such as fortified molasses can overcome weight loss, but overall, it is more cost-effective to supplement the weaner separately from the cow and calf.
Testing cows to maintain high weaning rates
Regular pregnancy testing ensures your beef production facility will turn over healthy profits.
Why? When you can identify a cow in calf and foetal age, you can provide her with optimum feed and pasture to ensure you preserve her body condition and secure the survival of her calf. Then, after calving, the cow will likely recover more quickly (and be ready for mating sooner) and command a higher price if you sell her. If she has a lower BCS, you will not be able to maximise the returns on your animal similarly.
Diagnosing pregnancy can also help you gain insight into the conception rate in herds that are seasonally mated, as well as the calving pattern and spread. This enables you to decide which cows should be culled (e.g. those that are dry and empty or late pregnant) and which should be identified or segregated. It can also help you choose whether to keep more pregnant heifers or purchase additional pregnant cows or heifers. If the mating of your herds is uncontrolled, pregnancy testing can help you identify and separate cows at a high risk of calving late in the dry season.
Ensure the long-term availability of your farm through timing and testing
By knowing the optimal time to wean your calves, you can plan your next calving season to get the most out of your herd's production. And coupled with understanding exactly when your cows are pregnant, you can obtain and preserve optimum body condition and make better purchasing decisions. These will all positively affect your farm's long and short-term profitability.
Regarding the future health and well-being of your animals, particular timing and testing can reduce stress on your calves and cows. By knowing the optimal weaning age, producers can ensure that the calves are not being weaned too early or too late, which can lead to long-term health issues and poor viability of your herd.
Pasture.io’s technology includes daily flyovers from over 200+ satellites, combined with AI to provide data on your paddocks, grazing and farm activities to assist you in managing these initiatives. For more information on how Pasture.io works with farmers worldwide to make the best farming decisions, head to our website here.
For further information on this topic, please read our other blog, which is full of practical tips for early weaning beef cattle here.
Until we meet again, Happy Weaning!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-01-05