Creep feeding is a specialized feeding program for nursing beef calves that provides supplemental nutrition on pasture that restricts feed access of the cows. Most producers make their decision to creep feed based upon a number of economic and personal reasons.
Producers who creep feed spring calves often realize: higher weaning weights in the fall, a more uniform marketable calf crop and an opportunity to maximize the performance potential of modern beef genetics. Aside from these sound reasons to creep feed, the deciding factor to creep feed should mainly be due to a profitable rate of return on every calf traced back strictly to creep feeding.
This year’s creep feeds can be provided on pasture throughout the summer, but the best time for supplemental calf feeding tends to be about three to four months after calving season is done. At this time medium-frame nursing calves are still growing at a rapid rate of gain; 1.8-2.2 lbs. per head daily, while larger-frame calves have the potential to gain over 2.5 lbs. per head, daily, but average milk production of the cowherd is slowing down. It is estimated that by mid-summer, the cows are only supplying about 50 per cent of their calves’ nutritional needs for energy and protein.
This nutritional shortfall must come from elsewhere if spring calves are going to maintain good bone and lean tissue growth, and that usually means that calves are now forced to rely mostly upon nutrients held in pasture grass. Unfortunately as time moves toward mid-summer, most pastures are not as lush as they once were in the early spring, so well-formulated high energy and protein creep feeds might be utilized on a daily basis in order to close this significant nutritional gap, which in essence is a real barrier to overall calf performance, especially for calves weaned and marketed in the fall.
Likewise, most university and industry studies have successfully demonstrated the value of creep feeding. Their data has shown consistent increased weight gains and desirable herd uniformity in pasturing first-year crept-fed calves. For the last few years, University of Illinois beef researcher Dan Faulkner says the annual practice of feeding spring calves, high quality creep feed seems to be the producer’s best tool in order to maintain the high genetic potential of modern fast-growing beef calves.
Despite such high regard, the corresponding economic benefits strictly due to similar creep feeding programs across western Canada have been mixed.
While the sale price of fall calves, cost of the creep feed and calf average daily gain (only due to creep feed) has a direct impact on overall creep feed profitability, it is the feed efficiency (FE) of the supplemental creep ration (the amount of feed converted into calf frame and lean bodyweight gain) as the main driver and sometimes elusive force behind overall calf performance and finally gross profits generated during an entire-or mid-summer of creep feeding season.
Broken down into its basic elements, the feed efficiency (FE) of creep feed formulated for spring calves is by nature not only variable (5-15 lb. of feed per lb. of gain), but as mentioned above is indirectly proportional to the quality of grazed pasture. Creep feeding calves grazing fair to medium quality pastures yields a feed efficiency of five to seven pounds of feed per pound of gain, while creep rations provided on tame high-quality pastures often yield a much lower feed efficiency of about nine to 11 lbs. per lb. of gain.
In order to determine actual creep feeding profitability for your own situation, consider the following worksheet example (source: South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service) that uses present estimates of feed and calf prices in order to compare strict feed efficiency and creep-feeding returns on a medium native-grass pasture versus two-year old tame pasture (re: consider the last column to calculate your own situation):
There are many ways to interpret our above feed efficiency and creep feed comparison. One way to look at these results is native pasture has a 2.0 point feed efficiency advantage in creep feeding compared to tame pastures and yields $22.40 per calf more due to creep feeding. From an opposite angle, the vice-versa situation is realized; a mere drop of 2.0 points in the feed efficiency of creep feeding due to the better quality of the tame pasture resulted in about an 82 per cent drop in the direct worth of creep feeding.
Sometimes, a decision to forgo creep feed calves during the summer is based upon allowing existing grasses (re: tame pasture) to put more economic gains on the calves, rather than rely on the concentrated nutrition formulated in creep rations. In contrast, the highest economic return from creep feeding often occurs when forages are becoming too mature for efficient utilization by spring calves or forage quality is limited due to overgrazing or a hot dry summer. Such similar field conditions should be revealed to most of us within the next couple of months.
Despite what happens, it appears that the current 2011 projected weaned calf prices are still relatively favorable in relation to the high grain prices that are formulated in most creep feeds, which makes creep feeding calves even more interesting to many people. However, the primary economic opportunity for creep feeding beef calves on most individual beef operations remains; to supplement the nutrient requirements of fast-growing calves on pasture where milk and forage supplies may fall short during the late summer, so spring calves can keep on growing.
A creep feed program does not necessarily fit every situation or particular year, but such profitable benefits of creep feeding should always be investigated beforehand by every producer.
PeterVittiisanindependentlivestock nutritionistandconsultantbasedinWinnipeg. Toreachhimcall204-254-7497orbyemailat [email protected]
Expected bodywt gainduetocreepfeed(lb.)
H Feedcostperlb. ofaddedgain
Expected Creep feed used
Value of Expected gain
Return per head due to creep