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Introduction to weaner production

The term WEANER PRODUCTION has over the past few months or more confused plenty of producers to just what is required of their production. Firstly the term WEANER refers to an animal which has been taken away from the mother and prevented from carrying on suckling or drinking milk. This normally happens at around the age of 7 to 8 months of age. It can happen earlier or even later but it depends on the particular farmer and his management policy. The animal remains a weaner until it attains the age of one year and then becomes a yearling. Hence, the importance of knowing, just when the animal was born – a system of IDENTIFICATION SHOULD BE IN PLACE.

Therefore a WEANER PRODUCTION SYSTEM is one where the producer sells animals of less than one year old at the best possible weight. The animals are NOT sold direct to slaughter, but rather to other producers or even feedlots who will know what to do with them. Please remember, the best SLAUGHTER WEIGHT is when the animal is between 415 and 460 kgs live-weight.



The whole idea of being a weaner producer is to place younger animals onto the market, but they should be of good weight. The second part of the plan and most importantly, is the fact that for every 2.5 weaners sold you create room for one extra breeding factory (cow) or you make available to your existing animals extra grass, which would have been eaten by the sold weaners or yearlings. There should under no circumstances be any MADONZA or OXEN at your post. The one exception being, you are using them for draft power. The first requirement to becoming a WEANER PRODUCER is to have the correct breed of animal. There are certain breeds which just can not produce a good heavy weaner at 7 months while there are other breeds which can do the job with ease.

Cattlemen, before you can start your Beef breeding program one has to consider the following points: - 

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1) As a Cattle Post Producer your management style is different to that of a fenced operation and one has to think smart.

2) One has to use which breed you love in your heart and NOT which breed your friends have told you to use

3) Most importantly, one then has to decide whether or not your first choice breed suits the ecological situation of your operation

4) Whether or not your selected breed can fit the type of beef production you want to do. Remember not all breeds are suited to weaner production and most certainly not all breeds are suited to extensive ranching conditions

5) The rancher may in fact end up utilising his second or third choice breed in order to be able to produce or fit into the desired production system. Owing to the climatic factors, Botswana is suited to extensive beef production, with the final finishing phase either in intensive feedlot or finishing off the grass (back-grounding to the fullest extent). The different production systems are: -

a) Weaner production – selling the weaned calf onto another producer. Here the important factor is to produce the heaviest weaner possible at 205 days (7months).

b) Yearling or tollie production – selling animals when they are about 15 months. Must have good weight

c) Steer production – selling males when they are about 24 to 30 months old straight to slaughter

d) Oxen production – selling males when they are over 40 months, straight to slaughter.

e) Bull production – this is using registered pedigree / purebred cattle to produce bulls for the commercial cattleman to buy and utilise in their production system.

All animals are firstly classified by Genotype (by genes), and then phenotype, (by looks and breed standard). There are TWO main Genotypes and these are: -

a) INDICUS or humped breeds i.e. Afrikaner, Brahman and Boran

b) TAURUS or breeds with no hump i.e. Angus, Sussex, Shorthorn, Charolais, Simmental and Hereford. The Indicus breeds are normally hardier, more disease resistant, not as inherently fertile, are slower to reproductive and physical maturity, and smaller in frame size.

The Taurus breeds are normally less hardy, more susceptible to disease, faster to reproductive and physical maturity, have more milk and larger in frame size. They also tend to have a more hairy coat. In this part of the world we have 29 genotype beef breed types to select from and these can be broken down into the following groups: - TAURUS BRITISH – Hereford, Red Poll, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn, South Devon, Sussex TAURUS EUROPEAN – Braunvieh (Brown Swiss), Charolais, Gelbvieh, Limousine, Pinzgauer, omagnola, Simmental INDICUS SANGA – Afrikaner, Tuli, Nguni, Tswana INDICUS ZEBU – Boran, Brahman (American composite), Indu Brazil, Guzerat, Nelor THE COMPOSITE BREEDS – Santa Gertrudis, eefmaster, Bonsmara, Brangus, ensburger, Huguenot, Sanganer, Simbra, Charbray. Commercial cattlemen, in order to help maximise their production, normally crossbreed their cattle. The secret here is to use two breeds of opposite genetics, TAURUS x INDICUS i.e. Afrikaner x Sussex. When doing this, the breeder now maximises the genetic potential with the help of HYBRID VIGER. The first cross CAN benefit by up to 14% increase of performance. This will be with no extra effort from management except the fact that the breeder has used a bit of scientific knowledge to help. Remember that your cross-bred animal will always give a heavier weaner than a purebred, therefore, to breed heavy weaners, cross a TAURUS with INDICUS; COMPOSITE with TAURUS or COMPOSITE with INDICUS.

The mother breed must be able to produce enough milk so that the calf can grow! Get to know your breed types and what they can and cannot do. Make your preferential selection based on scientific fact and your heart, not on what your friends tell you or current fashion trends.

If I were to start my breeding program again, I would select as my breeding factory, females out of the INDICUS SANGA GROUP and use as a bull one from the TAURUS GROUP or COMPOSITE BREEDS e.g. TSWANA FEMALE * SANTA GERTRUDIS BULL The breed represented below is a Sussex * Afrikaner cow with Santa Gertrudis progeny. The point being made is the genetic combinations are all opposite and the crossing engineered to try and maximise the potential hybrid vigour. The cow is 4 years old and has her second calf at foot which is 5 months old. Note the femininity of the two animals.

C A T T L E M A N A G E M E N T .

The ultimate objective would be to get all your cows WEANING a calf of 250kgs or better at 205 to 210 days of age. In reality it is not happening at the posts and if you wean a calfy at 170kgs at 7 months you think you have done well. There is no National record of Post operation weaning weight averages, but in discussion with other beef producers and from what I have seen, the National average would be around 170kg at 7 months. There are certainly Post operators who achieve 230kg average and one has to ask the question of HOW DO THEY ACHIEVE THAT WEIGHT?

Breed selection is one reason, while good management is another. The good management means amongst other aspects, good and efficient utilization of supplement licks and mineral licks and one will find I am certain, extra enthusiasm and understanding for not only the animals but the labour and natural resources as well. In a weaner operation it is most important to look after your female workers, especially the younger glamorous models who are still trying to prove that they are worth keeping. As a manager you must allow your animals to express their full genetic potential, and they can only do this if they are well cared for. NOT OVER CARED FOR BUT CORRECTLY CARED FOR.

1/ To start, when your cattle come in at night, they should be separated into age groups. All the Mosadi should be sleeping in one kraal and all the flashy teenagers (heifers) in another kraal. This separation means you can now make sure that your heifers get what they should and not let all the Mosadi eat the food.

2/ The fact, that you have started to separate your females into groups means that you can now start to bull your females correctly. This means that your heifers are bulled two months before your cows and you can implement a controlled bulling season as well. (Your bulls are locked up, and if they are doing their work correctly the females will be served at night when the majority are bulling in any case). The odd one caught by your comrade’s bull, while not the ideal situation, would be a bonus for you! The secret to success is to put as much selection pressure as possible on the breeding animals in order to eliminate all the passengers and good time girls!! The target should be a 6 week bulling period for the heifers and a 8 week period for the Mosadi and Mosadi Mogolo.

3/ The Mosadi should receive in the early dry months (April/May/June), no more than 170 to 220g of protein per day. On a scale of 1 to 5 the condition score of your animals should be 3 at the end of summer, so it would be a waste of money to supplement more protein than 220g per day. The young ladies who are still growing up and also pregnant need extra care owing to the fact that they have to grow and look after the baby inside their bodies. This group should receive supplement equal to between 200 and 225 grams of protein per day. The reason for separation of the two groups now becomes clear. The heifers would need to be supplemented 700grams of 30%CP product a day in order to get the required amount of 200gms protein per day.

4/ The period July through to September is critical in that it is a time of great stress for the animals. There is generally no or little protein left in the grass and the amount of grass is very little so your animals will need to receive extra protein in order to slow down or stop the weight loss. The Mosadi can afford to loose weight up to 15% of their normal body weight with little or no detrimental effect on reconception or foetal weight. The young females or heifers should not be allowed to loose weight but rather to gain a small amount of up to 250 grams per day or around 5 – 7kgs per month. (I hope you have all got scales to weigh your animals!! One simply can not farm animals correctly without a scale.) It follows therefore that the Mosadi should now receive up to 350 grams of protein per day while the younger animals should now get up to 450 grams of protein per day.

When August arrives your breeding cow and calf, would be requiring the equivalent of 350 - 400 grams of protein per day. So for example if your supplement contains 50% CP, then your animals would have to eat 700 - 800grams of supplement per day in order to receive the required amount of protein. Cows which are second calvers require 450 grams of protein per day Heifers which are first calvers require 500 grams of protein per day. These levels of supplementation will ensure you good reconception rates but also heavy weaners as the mothers will be able to produce enough milk to feed their calves an adequate amount ensuring good growth rates. It is important to remember that to stop supplementing your animals too quickly, will cancel out all the good work done before and you would have wasted all your money. The first rain DOES NOT mean stop supplementing. In fact it signals BE EVEN MORE DILIGENT in maintaining your animals. WINTER OR DRY PERIOD MAINTENANCE SHOULD ONLY STOP ONCE THE GRASS IS LONG ENOUGH FOR THE ANIMAL TO GET A FULL MOUTH WHEN IT BITES or when the animal stops taking the supplement in the correct amounts.


The bull can have as much as 80% influence on your herd as far as genetics is concerned. This is because the bull should give you more than 15 calves a year so his influence is much greater than that of the cow. It is therefore very important for you to look after the bull in the correct manner. How many Cattle Post Operators go into South Africa, buy an expensive bull, bring him home and then just leave him at the post with very little or no feed given to him during the acclimatisation phase. The animal is then left to his own devices as he is let loose in the veldt and expected to cover all the available females as well as to try and stay alive!! Firstly in a post situation, one just simply cannot guarantee that that your bull will stay with only your females. Should your bull be a bull of any worth, then he is going to have a roving eye, and females from afar will be most attractive to him, especially if they have better condition than his own(your females). Is it not true that stolen fruit always tastes sweeter than your own!!!

In order to look after your investment, build the bull a kraal next to your main kraal. It must be sited so that the bull can see what is happening around him. He must be made to feel part of the family and not just a spare part. This kraal must be big enough for him to move and get exercise, as this is where he is going to spend the rest of his life. He must have a good water supply and the food fed must be high in roughage content. This ration should not be more than 8% CP in value or better still a maintenance diet. This food can be fed at 3% of his live-weight per day or on an ad-lib basis, e.g. if the bull weighs 650kgs, then he must be fed 19.5 or 20kgs of food EVERY day. The ration fed should be based on a good percentage of roughage, as one does not want the bull to get fat and lazy! Your bull should also have access to the salt lick all year round.
Ralph Ferreira – Feedlot Expert and Consultant. Can be contacted on 72107097

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