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Start creep-feeding calves with the first blades of grass

This farm example nets an extra $21 per head

calf eating grass

By the time the first blades of grass shoot up in pasture, I will have asked about of a dozen beef producers whether they plan to creep feed their spring calves in grazing season of 2018. I believe in providing a fresh batch of calves with extra nutrients that complement the essential nutrients taken from nursing their mothers as well as grazed from green grass. Calves achieve higher weaning weights, which can add several dollars of profit to the cow-calf operator’s bottom line.

I used to believe the best time to move out creep feeders was by mid- to late summer, since the cow’s milk production is in steady decline and often meets only about 50 per cent of the calves’ nutrient requirements. In addition, these pastures may still look green, but forages are becoming more fibrous, producing less energy and protein for the grazing calf.

Lately, I found out my conventional way of thinking is not so universally loved. Rather than wait three to four months after calving, a feed mill manufacturer (I have worked part-time for this successful family business for last 13 years) who also owns a 100 cow-calf herd advocates putting out creep feeders for the spring calves as soon as the snow disappears.

Experience shows when producers wait until summer to put out creep feeders, nursing calves are slow to get up to them since by then creep feed intake is dictated by pasture grass quality — the better the quality of midsummer grass grazed, the less likely spring calves will come up to the feeders and eat creep feed. However, when creep feeders are put out early in spring. the nominal initial consumption by calves increases steadily throughout a normal grazing season in a step-up fashion toward fall. He reports weaning weights tend to be higher by 20 to 30 pounds with steady feed efficiencies of six to seven lbs. of feed per lb. of gain compared to conventional creep feeding methods.

I still recommend creep feeders be filled with a well-balanced high-quality creep feed: 14 per cent protein, medium to high energy (69-73 per cent TDN), balanced with calcium, phosphorus, salt, fortified trace mineral pack (especially copper, manganese, zinc and selenium) as well as high levels of vitamins A, D and E. Ingredients I recommend in creep feeds formulations include barley, wheat middlings, corn distillers’ grain, and soybean meal, while usually avoid most types of feed screenings in particular. (I am a fan of heavy pea and lentil screenings available in southern Saskatchewan). Lastly, a growth promotant and coccidiostat such as monensin sodium should be added to the final creep formula.

Good ration, good feed efficiency

My experience is that good consumption of creep feed coupled with good feed efficiency becomes the driving force behind overall calf performance and creep-feeding profitability. My recommendations for 2018 are based on a 150-day creep feeding program (April to October) implemented for a group of large-framed calves with standard genetics and replacement heifers segregated to another pasture put on a different feeding program. Other parameters include: 1) A commercial 14 per cent creep feed pellet @ $380/tonne is fed; 2) Feed conversion of these pellets is six pounds of weaned weight gain; 3) All creep-fed calves are weaned at 750 lbs. and 4) a hundredweight market discount of eight cents per lb.

The key figure is Profit ($) per weaned calf due to creep feed. I estimated the predicted calf price at weaning (five to six months away) from available market information. As a result, an estimated extra $21.24 per calf for 2018 is earned due to creep feeding.

For that 100-head operation, that puts creep feeders out with the first blades of grass and sells about 85 heavy weaned calves (minus the replacement heifers) in the fall it adds nearly $2,000 of profit to their bottom line.

About the author


Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]



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