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Optimising Age of Weaning Cattle

MLA Producer Demonstration Site
2023 - 2026

Project Facilitator: Dr Enoch Bergman

Lead Producer: Nick Ruddenklau

Updated 27/09/23

Optimising Age of Weaning Cattle is a 3 year project, run by ASHEEP in collaboration with Swans Veterinary Services and local producers, and funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) through the Producer Demonstration Site program. 

The project aims to demonstrate that weaning cattle 60 days earlier than each participant’s current practice has the potential to improve pasture use efficiency allowing improved stocking density, conserve high value feed stuffs for finishing weaner cattle and conserve the body condition of breeding females improving their ability to both calve successfully and rebreed at the subsequent mating opportunity.

Background

MLA’s "More Beef from Pastures" outlines the benefits of early weaning on increasing weaner throughput and feed efficiency, and additional consultation with local veterinarian Dr Enoch Bergman DVM (Swans Veterinary Services) has confirmed that practice change in time of weaning is likely to have a range of benefits potentially leading to more kgs of beef per hectare turned off and better reproductive performance. Enoch has advised that cow-calf units feeding calves over 200 days of age have been shown to require 15.5 kg DM per day until weaned vs 9.6 kg DM per day if separated for maintenance of the cow and growth of the calf. The goal of the project is to be able to clearly demonstrate the benefits of early weaning to producers to encourage uptake.

A 2020 survey of local cattle producers indicated that age of calf at weaning ranges from between 152 days to 304 days. This represents high variability in existing practices, with only a small percentage weaning earlier than the district average (25% were weaning an average of 40 days earlier than the district average of 220 days). Those weaning later have no reason to change without demonstrated evidence of the benefits.

The goal of the project is to provide confidence to producers in the concept of optimising weaning time, by weaning earlier than traditional practices to improve their kgs of beef per hectare turn off without additional nutritional inputs, either by allowing them to increase their breeder numbers, retain their weaners for longer, or both. Additionally, by reducing the maintenance requirements of their breeding population, they will reduce the carbon impact per kg of beef they produce, an important consideration going forward. The project will allay the concerns of producers that early weaned calves will suffer and will highlight the positive reproductive implications for the lactating cow simultaneously.

Enoch will consider the current weaning practices of producers looking to host demonstration sites to assess that weaning 60 days earlier will not be detrimental to cow/calf and is likely to have beneficial results to their farming operation. A period of 60 days is selected for the purpose of the project in order to achieve measurable results.

Project objectives

By December 2025, in the Esperance Region of Western Australia:

1. Demonstrate across 5 demonstration sites that:

  • Calves weaned 60 days earlier than their control group siblings can be managed to prevent a reduction in weight gain comparatively measured after the control calves are yard weaned.

  • Cows with calves weaned earlier will gain or maintain more weight and have higher average body condition scores (BCS) than the cows from the control group to the point of traditional weaning on the same pasture, demonstrating a reduction in maintenance requirements (15.5 kg DM vs 6 kg DM per day) and apparent partitioning of resources to BCS.  

  • Cows with calves which had been weaned earlier will have maintained more weight, better body condition scores, and will have an improved pregnancy rate in their subsequent mating.

  • Enrolled producers will realise that better utilisation of forage will improve their kgs of beef per hectare turn off for the same quantity of forage additionally reducing their net carbon contribution per kg of beef produced per hectare.   

2. Conduct a cost benefit analysis to determine the economic impact on weaner weight, cow repreg rate, feed efficiency and potential to increase stocking rate, as well as impact on net carbon.

3. Implement skills and training development with core and observer producers via workshops, newsletter articles, field day discussion and You Tube videos.

4. 75% of core producers will have intention to adopt earlier weaning practices.  50% of observer producers will be considering practice change and 25% will intend to implement.

5. 100% of core producers and 75% of observer producers will have improved their knowledge, skills and confidence in relation to understanding the impacts of time of weaning.

There are opportunities throughout the project for producers to attend workshops, tours and field days. 

This project has animal ethics approval via the Department of Primary Industry & Regional Development Animal Ethics Committee.

Banner Image Credit: Dan Paris.

Contact ASHEEP if you would like more information on this project. ASHEEP members will be provided with regular updates, visit our membership page if you would like to consider joining. 

PROJECT PARTNERS:
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