Successful weaning

Changes in diet, environment and social grouping can make weaning a stressful time for a calf. A successful weaning programme reduces stress and disease and ensures minimal disruption to growth rates.

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When to wean

Healthy calves should be weaned based on concentrate intake – not on weight, size or age.

  • Research shows that, provided calves are at least five weeks of age, concentrate intake is the key factor on which the decision about when to wean should be based
  • From a nutritional perspective, the most suitable time to wean a calf is when it is eating enough concentrate, because this is a good indicator of rumen development

The recommendation is to wean calves when, for three consecutive days, they eat at least:

  • 1 kg of concentrate if calf starter is >22% crude protein or,
  • 2 kg of concentrate, if calf starter is <22% crude protein

Calves weaned before five weeks of age tend to be more susceptible to disease. Only wean healthy calves that are growing well. Delay weaning for ill calves or for those with poor intakes.


Clean, fresh, ad-lib water must be provided from birth to encourage rumen development, concentrate intake and increase daily weight gains.

How to wean

Weaning should be done gradually by reducing milk over a period of 7–14 days. This will increase concentrate intakes, avoid a growth check after weaning and minimise weaning distress.

Reducing milk can be done by reducing the volume of milk fed per feed and/or reducing the number of feeds per day.

Reduce stress at weaning

Stress at weaning affects a calf’s immune system for at least two weeks after weaning. This can make calves more susceptible to disease, particularly pneumonia, and can reduce growth rates.

To reduce stress, make no changes to housing, feed, water or social groups for two weeks after weaning. Also avoid stressful procedures at/around weaning, such as vaccination, disbudding and castration.

Useful links

Calf management guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Calf management guide, please contact or call 0247 799 0069.