As a beef nutritionist, I have advocated creep feeding spring calves for years. That’s because as feeder cattle prices have steadily risen, there was a real profit due to creep feeding as well as some decent side-benefits. I haven’t changed my position for 2015 and advise each cow-calf operator to calculate their own situation and hopefully pencil out a positive impact creep feeding can make to one’s financial bottom line.
I believe creep feeders should be moved onto pastures by the middle of summer, even when calves are receiving lots of milk from their cows and grazing lush grass. (Although it is late summer or early fall now, it is not too late). Calves might eat only about two to three pounds of creep feed, but by late summer (three to four months after calving), their dam’s milk production is declining, such that the average beef cow might be meeting only about 50 per cent of her growing calf’s nutrient requirements.
In addition, pasture quality is also declining. Once lush grasses become more fibrous, essential nutrients such as energy and protein are not as readily available. As a result, the same calves are being drawn to the feeders and dramatically consume about eight to 10 lbs. of creep feed by summer’s end and well into autumn months before weaning.
These creep feeders should be filled with a well-balanced creep feed:
- 14 per cent protein, medium level energy (65-70 per cent TDN), balanced with calcium, phosphorus, salt, fortified trace mineral pack (especially copper, zinc and selenium).
- Ingredients that I recommend include: barley, wheat middling, corn distillers’ grain, and soybean meal. Avoid most types of feed screenings.
Not for all
A good-quality creep feed is not recommended for every spring calf on the farm. Replacement heifers on good quality pasture, need a modest energy diet comprised mainly of milk and forages. Otherwise, they could get over-conditioned, which most university field trials have proven could lead to a life-time of lower milk production as mature cows and as a result, leads to lower weaning weights of future calves.
Regardless, consider the positive economic forces of creep feeding spring steers for 2015. I compare them to creep feeding outlines of the last four years of 2011-14 using present and past dollar values on weaning calves and feed costs (see table below). Parameters include: creep feeding a group of large-framed calves with solid genetics (re: segregate replacement heifers to other pastures and feeding programs). I also set up the actual selling price of $350-375/mt for 14 per cent protein — medium energy commercial calf creep pellet that was made up of ingredients and nutrient specifications that I outlined above. My calculations also included the feed conversion of these pellets of 6.0 lbs. of creep feed per lb. of weaning weight gain and fed in about a 100-day creep feeding program. Calves are weaned at 600 lbs. in the fall.
Record high prices for weaned feeder cattle and modest creep feed prices, makes the decision to creep feed spring calves during this season attractive to myself and many people. I summarized my comparison for creep feed profitability in 2015 and recent years:
- Net profitability due to creep feeding range: a nominal loss (2010) to $84.60 per weaned calf (2015); a market discount of $5 per cwt gain was accounted to determine the net worthiness due to creep feeding compared to “not” creep feeding. Otherwise, creep feeding in 2011 would show $23 profit.
- ROI ranged from minus six per cent (2011) to a steady increased ROI, topped at 142 per cent in 2015.
- Value of creep gain has increased every year since 2010, mainly due to a steady increase in weaning weight calf prices. Highest value of creep gain is projected for 2015.
In today’s cattle market there is money to be made by creep feeding spring calves. I agree that time is getting short to build a 100-day calf creep feeding program, but there is still some time. However, a custom 80, 60, and 45 creep feeding program can still be set up, which should fit into most people’s operations and ultimately capture some of this profit. When an approximate $85 per calf return due to creep feeding can bring a potential $25,000 to a 300 cow-calf operation, I believe that it’s time to creep feed beef calves.