Over the years, I have discovered that there are three types of beef producers who are creep feeding spring calves.
1. Those who don’t creep feed.
2. Those who sometimes creep feed if it makes economic sense, and
3. Producers who routinely creap feed as a matter of course.
Although, I have heard almost-convincing arguments from the first two groups, I tend to take sides with the last on the list, because there are five solid benefits to creep feeding spring calves every year.
These benefits dispel the notion that as long as the cows are milking well or pastures are lush, producers don’t have to creep feed.
At the beginning of the pasture season, I often witnessed spring calves engorged with milk as their dams ate succulent grasses. However, my attitude quickly changed when lots of university studies demonstrated that by mid- to late summer, the nursing cow’s milk production is in steady decline and meets only about 50 per cent of the growing calves’ nutrient requirements. Supplemental nutrition provided on pasture is the only way to close this “hunger gap” and help baby calves meet all their nutrient requirements.
These five good reasons also dispel the second belief that direct profitability of creep feeding calves is necessary. While I still recommend producers take a hard look at economics, they also need to look at the total profitability of putting more saleable weight on spring calves during the summer as well as the ROI (return on investment).
Look at return on investment
For example, for the last 10 years I have tracked the direct total return ($) per calf and ROI to put 60 pounds of creep-feed weight on calves by the end of a 100-day creep feeding program. As a result (see chart), each year showed a profit per calf or positive ROI; the lowest being 2013 due to lower autumn calf prices relative to grain prices, while 2015 was a pinnacle year of $85 profit per weaned calf or 142 per cent ROI on a reverse situation.
For 2020, the profitability of creep feeding spring calves is nominal with lower predicted feeder prices and relatively stable grain prices. Yet this should not dissuade anybody from creep feeding calves, because as I advocate, the following five benefits of creep feeding calves, remain the same:Weaning weights are increased. Producers can average 30-80 pounds per calf of added gain with creep feeding, particularly on large-frame, good-quality steers with a lot of growth potential.
Efficient gains are achieved. Good-framed and quality steers are masters of turning high-quality and palatable creep feed into lean body tissue. Calves weighing less than 500 pounds can convert good-quality creep at the rate of six pounds eaten into one pound of gain.
Not so dependent on cow. I know of a few producers that put their creep feeder out as early as possible in the grazing season. As a result, they have witnessed that weaning weights tend to be higher by 20 pounds with steady feed efficiencies of six to seven pounds of feed per pound of gain.
More uniform weaned calves. Creep feed tends to even out the nutrition received by all calves within a cow herd and produce similar weaning weights by fall. That’s because, some cows are not producing as much milk as compared to others, such as first calf heifers compared to older brood cows.
Less weaning stress. A friend weans about 300 calves every fall. She finds that her crept-fed calves cry out for a day or so, but quickly forget about mum. These weaned calves are also bunk-broke and tend to go onto a 45-day backgrounder-feeding program sooner.
I believe these benefits support the argument that most cow-calf producers should creep feed calves. Even in 2020, when its direct profitability might be breakeven dollars, producers should still put their creep feeders onto pasture, so they can count better profits from these benefits all on one hand.