Yard Weaning

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Many purchasers these days insist that the young cattle they receive have been yard weaned.  Why is this important and how can it be easily achieved? Once you have tried yard weaning successfully you will wonder why you ever tried any other way.

The first step is to ensure that your yards are large enough and strong enough to handle the mob.  If room is an issue, consider splitting the mob and weaning in stages. The yards need to be strong enough to keep the calves in, but also to prevent injury.

You will need to ensure that water is available at all times. Ideally the water should be fresh and clean, although for many of us this can be hard to come by, particularly in times of drought. The better quality the water and the more readily available it is, the more your calves will eat. The more the calves eat, the better their transition will be.

What should you feed? This will depend on what you have on hand or have access to purchase. There are a few things to remember:

  • Calves should have access to hay at all times. The hay should have good levels of functional fibre. Pure clover hay would be unsuitable for this reason. The hay you chose is important and it is well worth getting a feed test done. Feed tests will highlight such things as nitrate or water soluble carbohydrate levels, which can cause problems. These can really set your young stock back. It can get fairly messy during a yard weaning and if the calves are on high nitrate feed, they will not only under-perform, they can develop respiratory issues as a result of excess ammonia in the environment. If you are unsure of where to get your feed tested, you can ask your rural store or give us a call and we can point you in the right direction.
  • Try and keep the soluble protein and nitrate level as low as possible. This does not mean keep the protein low.  Fast-growing young stock have smaller rumen sizes relative to the rest of their body and their demand for feed protein is high.
  • Along with access to hay and water at all times, calves should be fed once a day with a concentrate supplement. If calves have been on a lick feeder or creep fed, they can remain on this system, (creep feeding is a superior method to lead into weaning and will be discussed in later articles).
  • Ideally, purchase a feed that is high in bypass protein, through inclusion of ingredients such as canola meal or soybean meal. Most stock feed mills cater for the needs of young stock, so it is a good idea to ring and ask which is an appropriate mix to use. If you are in doubt, we can help you out with advice.
  • Calves must be weaned onto concentrate feeds to avoid acidosis. This is particularly important if calves have not previously had access to cereal grains. On day-one of weaning, offer a small line of feed along the bottom of all troughs about 5cm in width.  Watch the feeding behaviour. Once about a quarter of the calves are eating, slowly, over 4 to 5 days, increase the feed up to about 1.5 to 2kg per head per day depending on size and growth requirements. To get the amount of feed fine-tuned, it is best to weigh at weaning and discuss growth goals with an animal nutritionist.
  • If you find the calves are not interested in concentrate feed during the initial stages of weaning, purchase some molasses and tip this over the top of the feed, or mix it through, whichever is most convenient.  This is simply to attract the calves via the smell, so the exact quantity does not matter and you can water it down to make handling easier if you wish. Raw sugar has a similar effect.
  • Always use troughs for cattle. Pellets or grain mixes should not be fed to cattle on the ground. They are not as efficient as sheep at accessing it like this and they will tend to consume a fair amount of soil. There is anecdotal evidence that the incidence of clostridial type diseases such as Blackleg, Pulpy Kidney and Black Disease increases when cattle are fed concentrate on the ground. The clostridial bacteria can survive for long periods of time in soil. Young stock should be vaccinated with 7 in 1 or 5 in 1 prior to weaning to prevent this.
  • Once the calves have settled down and can be let out into pasture, continue to offer the hay they have been on for about a week. Ideally the amount of pasture offered should be increased gradually. Concentrate feeding can be slowly weaned back down again if the pasture offered is of good enough quality. This will only be the case if the pasture is not too rank and there is enough of it to fully feed the stock. If this is not the case then continuing with concentrate feed will yield excellent results. In most cases, the longer calves are on concentrate the better their growth rates. Feel free to contact us to discuss duration of concentrate feeding.


The Flushing Effect


The Flushing Effect

When cattle are in good order and heifers are well grown using a timed AI program should give excellent conception rates.  Last year a particularly exceptional result was achieved by one of HCH Genetic’s clients who used a synchronised breeding program and managed nutrition to generate what is commonly referred to as the “flushing effect”.  There has been much anecdotal evidence over the years that this effect is real, but why it works has only recently been understood.

The flushing effect is created when cattle are fed well above maintenance about three weeks prior to joining.  In the past, research focused on the effects of increased nutrition on gonadotropins (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH)), LH (Luteinising Hormone) and FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone).  No relationship could be found.

More recently, scientists such as JG Gong in the UK have been investigating the effect of “flushing” at the ovarian level.  They have found a marked effect on the growth of small follicles from increased nutrition.  Increased nutrition causes increased levels of insulin IGF 1 and bGH.  The effect of these metabolites in the blood does not seem to affect GnRH, LH or FSH, but actually have a direct effect on the follicles within the ovaries.

This research has been well accepted by the scientific community and a great deal of work has been done on the metabolic pathways involved.  It is now accepted that insulin in the blood has a direct effect at the follicular level.

The science is very impressive and convincing, but how can this be applied to practical farming?   The effect that total nutrition has on fertility is complex, but the main effects discovered in this research have been ENERGY dependent.  Therefore diets three weeks prior to joining should increase the total energy of the diet while ensuring that water, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals are not limiting and soluble nitrogen sources such as nitrates and urea are not too high.  (Some lush rapidly growing pastures can present this problem).

It is relatively easy to formulate a diet to increase energy and achieve the flushing effect.   If pasture is the only option, then limiting intake for about a month to three weeks and then allowing access to as much as the cattle can eat may create this effect as long as nitrates in lush pasture do not interfere.

A diet that produces high levels of propionic acid in the rumen gives higher levels of insulin in the blood.  As we now know, high insulin levels in the blood increase the number of small follicles in the ovary, boosting fertility.  Supplementing with (correctly buffered) cereal grains three weeks prior to joining will increase the energy levels consumed by cattle.  Cereal grains are known to produce higher levels of propionic acid in the rumen and should therefore; more reliably cause the flushing effect.

Feeding cereal grains may present a problem if farms are not set up to handle concentrated supplements.  If the set up is there, then buffered cracked grain mixes or pellets, even whole oats are a great option.  Increased grain levels in a TMR is an ideal option for those who have the infrastructure. Stock “cubes” with a high grain content can work well if feed troughs are not an option.   There are many ways to incorporate grains in to the diet.

Feel free to give us a call at HCH Genetics if you need assistance in this area.


Magnesium is one of the most important minerals to consider when supplementing cattle.

Magnesium is involved in almost every major bodily function imaginable; over 300 enzyme activation pathways, nerve function, muscle function and excitability, bone mineral formation, hormone secretion, energy metabolism throughout the body, tolerance to stress, health of the immune system, the body can’t even read its own genetic code without magnesium.

Not surprisingly if our cattle are deficient in magnesium the consequences are serious.  The obvious one is grass tetany, which as we all know can result in death and the costs to production systems from dealing with the effects of grass tetany are significant.  Grass tetany can be picked up prior to cows going down by noticing a general increase in cattle’s excitability, reduced feed intake muscular twitching of face and ears and stampeding.

While low levels of magnesium can be a problem, it is often an excess in potassium that is the cause of the magnesium deficiency.  When cattle are grazed on rapidly growing pasture, particularly in cool weather, the level of potassium can be extremely high.  This interferes with the active absorption of magnesium in the rumen.  Pastures fertilised with high levels of potassium and nitrogen make cattle particularly susceptible.  Pastures high in nitrates will also interfere with Magnesium absorption.

To prevent problems associated with magnesium deficiency it is essential to supplement cattle with this mineral and it must be available on a daily basis.  Unlike young stock, mature cattle lack the ability to quickly mobilise magnesium into their blood and so variations in magnesium availability can have a dramatic effect.

Magnesium is not an expensive mineral to supply, its availability from sources such as finely ground magnesium oxide, magnesium sulphate and magnesium chloride is good, chelated magnesium is a dearer option, but highly available.  Supplementation with magnesium s a surer bet that trying to get enough magnesium in through forage.  Availability of magnesium from forage sources is poor.  The availability of Magnesium from Dolomitic limestone should be regarded as nil.

Magnesium is required in large amounts and when potassium is causing interference, the levels needed to overcome the effects of interference are surprisingly high (Weiss, W. P).  This is because we cannot alter the inhibition of active Magnesium absorption due to potassium, so we have to rely on passive absorption.   Schonewille, J.T.( et al,) found that in order to maintain a steady level of Magnesium absorption, Magnesium intake must be increased by 4g/d when the dietary Potassium concentration increases by 10g/kg of dry matter.

Mature beef cows need about 7g of Magnesium per day, equivalent to about 13g/d MagOx or 28g of Epsom salts.  Other than the advantage that these are relatively cheap sources, the other advantage to supplementing with Magnesium is that t is very difficult to overdose cattle with it.  Excess Magnesium is excreted in the urine.

Many Australian farms will face mineral deficiencies and more often than not magnesium will be one of them.  It is not a good idea to rely on blood tests to try and determine deficiencies because a normal blood serum result can hide a lack of available magnesium within the cells of the body which will be affecting cellular function.  Blood tests together with considerations such as the levels of magnesium and potassium in the rest of the diet should be considered, for example if cattle are being offered bore water high in minerals such as magnesium sulphate, then supplementary Magnesium may not be required at all.  If the feed on offer averages levels of Potassium above 1%, then supplementary Magnesium should definitely be under consideration (Weiss, W. P.).

Magnesium can be fed to cattle in a number of ways.  It can be added to a TMR, added to a concentrated grain mix, added to hay or silage prior to baling or ensiling, drenched, added through the water system if troughs are used or offered in a lick.  HCH Genetics offers a basic Magnesium loose lick which is effective and inexpensive as well as loose licks that offer the entire range of required vitamins and minerals. All these options are cheap forms of insurance to ensure optimal herd health.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call on 0429 795 468.



“Quantitative Prediction of Magnesium Absorption in Dairy Cows”  Lit revew

Schonewille, J.T. j.t.schonewille@vet.uu.nl,  Everts, H., Jittakhot, S., eynen, A.C.

Jounal of Dairy Science, Jan 2008 Vol. 91 Issue 1, p271-278. 8p. 4 Charts

“Plasma Mineral Profile and its Correlation with Reproductive Status in Crossbred cows.”

Devasena, B.1 devasenabusineni@yahoo.com,  Ramana, J. V.1,  Prasad, P. Eswara1,  Sudheer, S.1,  Prasad, J. Rama1,  Intas Polivet. Jan-Jun2015, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p49-53. 5p.

“Liming of two acidic soils improved grass tetany ratio of stockpiled Tall Fescue without increasing plant available phosphorus.”  Hamilton, Elizabeth J.1,  Miles, Randall J.1, Lukaszewska, Krystyna2, Remley, Melissa2, Massie, Matt3, Blevins, Dale G.2 blevinsd@missouri.edu,  Journal of Plant Nutrition. Mar2012, Vol. 35 Issue 4, p497-510. 14p.

“Determination of Macroelement Parameters in Different Productive Stages of Simmental Cows.”,  Krsmanović, M.1, Djoković, R.1, Giadinis, N. D.2, Panousis, N.2, Bojkovski, D.3, Savić-Stevanović, V.4, Vasić, A.4, Zdravković, N.4, Korica, S.5, Bojkovski, J.4 bojkovski@vet.bg.ac.rs, Israel Journal of Veterinary Medicine. Mar2015, Vol. 70 Issue 1, p12-15. 4p.

“Macromineral Digestion by Lactating Dairy Cows: Factors Affecting Digestibility of Magnesium”,  Weiss, W. P.1 weiss.6@osu.edu, Journal of Dairy Science. Jul2004, Vol. 87 Issue 7, p2167-2171. 5p. 2 Charts, 2 Graphs.

“Indication of intracellular magnesium deficiency in lactating dairy cows revealed by magnesium loading and renal fractional excretion.”, Schweigel, M.1 mschweigel@fbn-dummerstorf.de, Voigt, J.1, Mohr, E.2, Journal of Animal Physiology & Animal Nutrition. Feb2009, Vol. 93 Issue 1, p105-112. 8p. 1 Chart, 3 Graphs

“Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle, Seventh Revised Edition, 2001.” Subcommittee on Dairy Cattle Nutrition, Committee on Animal Nutrition, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 2001.

“Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, Update 2000.” Subcommittee on Beef Cattle Nutrition, Committee on Animal Nutrition, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 2000.

Calcium: Why is it so important?

charolias in limestone smaller

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with most of it being found in the skeleton. However, its function throughout the rest of the body is varied, vital and luckily usually well regulated within the body.  As cattle producers we can run into difficulties if calcium levels are too low long term, particularly for our young stock and after calving when lactation requirements for calcium increase markedly.

Calcium is needed for bone, tooth, hair and hoof formation and maintenance, correct nerve and muscle function (including when calving) and blood clotting.  It is a component of many enzymes, vital for cellular function and is also necessary for milk production.  Needless to say it is an important mineral.

Luckily for cattle producers, providing supplemental calcium is not only easy, it’s cheap.  There’s something you don’t often hear.

Being such an abundant mineral in the body, it is also required in large amounts in the diet.  Many licks do not provide enough calcium and in fact this is also the case with many premixed mineral pellets that can be added to concentrate rations.  This is because as soon as the correct amount of supplemental calcium is added, the dose rate goes up markedly and so does the price.

Most cattle producers are better off providing macro minerals such as calcium, sodium, phosphorus and magnesium to the diet, blended as a loose lick.  Other vitamins and minerals can be offered in the typical premixed blends or licks.

It is particularly important to consider supplementing cattle with calcium

  • when are young
  • when they are old
  • at calving time and for at least six weeks after calving
  • when feeding a diet high in concentrates
  • when feeding a diet high in fat or vegetable oils

Diets low in forage, high in concentrates and/or fats and oils can reduce the availability of calcium.

Due to the fact that calcium is inexpensive, it is worthwhile to have it available to all classes of stock all year round.

One of the most available and cost effective sources of calcium is limestone.  Limestone provides cattle with a palatable, available source of calcium; in fact calcium supplied in this form can be more available than calcium found in forage.  Forage calcium is commonly found in high proportions in its indigestible oxylate form.

Cattle producers can mix their own calcium lick easily and safely simply by adding between 5 to 10kg of limestone to a bag of course salt and leaving this mixture out as a lick.  HCH Genetics have a macro mineral blend available for purchase pre-made as a loose lick for those who like the convenient option.  This lick is devoid of filler so the cattle are only being offered the minerals they need.  It is designed as an inexpensive option to provide cattle with their macro mineral requirements.  If you would like to enquire, just contact us.

Early weaning

Evidence is mounting that is causing more beef producers to consider early weaning. There has been a healthy level of research into the effects of early weaning on cow calf performance and the effect on overall profitability. Evidence suggests that it is a more profitable system regardless of the season, however it does require careful, skillful management.

Traditionally calves are weaned at seven to eight months of age. Early weaning has been investigated extensively at ages as early as three months of age and even a few studies younger than this. The main advantages of weaning at an early age is the decrease in overall energy required to feed the cow calf unit. Early weaning allows the calf to be fed a specialised, high quality ration without wasting it on the cow. Feed of this quality is more expensive, but the feed conversion efficiency of young cattle is excellent which compensates for this extra cost to some degree depending on the concentrate used. Mature cows can be turned out on rough feed or fed lower quality forage and will still manage to gain weght in time for calving the following year as their energy requirements drop dramatically when they are not supporting a calf (Rasby). If we are facing a year of low forage availability and potentially the need to feed poorer quality forage, this can be of real benefit.

Early weaning prior to joining has been shown to have quite dramatic effects on overall profitability of a cow calf operation (Tathum et al). Weaning prior to joining has been shown to improve pregnancy rates, reduce overall feed costs and has also demonstrated improved feed conversion efficiency in early weaned calves, thus earlier finishing times. We all know that the main driver for profitability for a breeding operation is pregnancy rates. The other quite significant advantage to an early weaning system is the ability to increase cow numbers. A study by Tatham, weaning calves at 3 months of age, showed a decreased dse per cow from 15 to 13, allowing for a sizable increase in cow numbers.

It seems too good to be true. It is and it isn’t. The potential gains are real, but the management needed is more complex and the margin for error larger. Once the calves are off the cows, management for the cows becomes easier, but obviously more labour intensive for the calves. Calves need to be introduced to a high energy diet over about 2 weeks ideally when they still have access to their dams. Diets should be dry (Larson) with free choice good quality forage at all times and a grain based concentrate with high protein levels and supplemental minerals. Once on the diet they will thrive as long as calves have constant access to high quality forage and concentrate feeding is regular, either with limited lick feeders, feeding a set amount on a daily basis, or using a feed regulator. The concentrate that is selected is very important and it is always a good idea to seek advice on your choice. Concentrates fed should be low in fibre, high in protein, be palatable, buffered and minerals should be provided. Using a buffer such as Acid Buf is a great idea. Acid Buf is available through HCH Genetics and is a highly palatable, effective and long lasting rumen buffer. It would also be worth considering the addition of a pro biotic such as Diamond V Yeast. Yeast products included in calf diets have shown improved growth rates, but a more marked effect on reduced illness, both in numbers ill, mortality and fewer sick days overall.

Our qualified cattle nutritionist at HCH Genetics is available to take you through the whole process and help you set up a management plan. Go to “Contact Us” with any questions.

Article by Jacqueline Aylan-Parker (B.Agr.Sci.(Hons))