The cost and value gained should be the deciding factor for creep feeding calves
The practice of creep feeding is sometimes implemented by producers to facilitate weight gain. If managed properly, this practice can be a worthwhile investment for producers – without adequate research, facilities and management, however, it may not pay off producers hope.
Make It Pay: In order for creep feeding to be a worthwhile endeavor, Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said the value of gain must be greater than its cost.
“There is a vast difference in research findings on feed conversion of creep feeds, with some older reports of feed to gain ratios in excess 30:1, meaning that it takes 30 pounds of feed to get 1 pound of gain. That type of conversion is probably never going to be profitable,” he explained. “On the other hand, some of the more modern, better balanced rations, that also include an ionophore, have reported feed conversion well below 10:1, a much more favorable rate.”
Provide the Right Ration: An inadequate ration for the needs of the calves is not worth spending money on.
Dr. Shane Gadberry, livestock nutritionist with the University of Arkansas, explained choosing a creep feed should be based on quality and quantity of pasture. Higher protein creep feeds may be desired when forage protein is low and desired creep intake is low (around 1 to 1.5 pounds per calf, daily). However, moderate to moderately-high protein creep feeds may be desired when forage quantity is limited, or available forage is low quality and desired creep intake is moderate (around 1.5 to 3 pounds per calf, daily).”
Is It the Right Type of Gain? Not all gains are created equal – if creep feeding causes calves to become excessively fleshy, McCorkill said, producers may find they receive a discounted market price. Achieving the desired gains will come from having the appropriate amount of protein in the ration. This facilitates balanced bone and muscle development.
Have the Right Set-Up: There are many ways that a producer can set up a creep feeding station, but a few management strategies usually stay the same across the board, namely preventing spoiled feed.
“It may take some work but it is advisable to try and position the feeder in a way that limits the moisture from blowing precipitation getting in and spoiling feed,” McCorkill explained. “Keep an eye on the feed opening to make sure it keeps clean and free of spoilage; this will make consumption more even, as well as extend the life of your feeder. Properly setting the feed opening on gravity feeders so there isn’t an excess of feed exposed will help prevent spoilage as much as anything; start with it set pretty tight and as the calves consume more feed, open it up to compensate for the greater consumption.”
A pen system with a gate only calves can get through or utilizing rotational grazing equipment such as electric wire and temporary fence posts, will restrict cow access.
Creep Feed When Times Are Tough: Some producers may not typically creep feed as part of their program, but there can be some situations where this practice can be implemented to help conserve forage.
“Situations that lead to a forage shortage, such as drought or even a late spring that affects the fescue growth curve, are examples of a time when creep feeding might need greater consideration,” McCorkill said. “The common notion creep feeding takes pressure off the cow is a bit flawed. Calves tend to take the same amount of milk whether creeped or not; they do, however eat the feed in place of a good bit of the grass they would consume, taking pressure off of the pasture, leaving more grass for the cows to consume.”