Creep Feed Yay or Nay??
Stacy Hoffman, Livestock Production Specialist
All American Co-op & Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC
Hello everyone!! Well, Summer sure has made her presence known this year hasn’t she?? I have seen fat steers panting already and signs of heat stress on calves! The kick-off to summer gets me thinking about creep feed and pasture conditions. Let’s take a few minutes to look at why’s and when’s of creep feed including the benefits, strategizing, and some of the economics. Lastly, we will talk about how to stretch those pastures if the rains slow or stop.
First and foremost, some benefits to creep feeding:
When to Creep Feed
- Calf prices are high relative to feed prices
- Pastures begin to decline in quality or quantity
- Dams are 1st or 2nd calf heifers
- Growth potential of calves are not met with milk and pasture
- Feed to pre-weaned calves to adjust them to manufactured feed and bunk environment
- Heavier calves at weaning, can increase total dollars per calf sold
- Replacement heifers benefit from a high fiber creep promoting a higher breeding weight, and higher weaning weights passed on to their own calves.
- Increases the ease of bunk breaking….they’re already broke!
- Reduces stress at weaning time when weaned onto creep, it’s familiar feed and makes the transition that much easier for them, thus improving overall health status of those calves.
We need to take a close look at each individual situation when it comes to creep feeding and how we can use it to our benefit. For example, if cattle are on an older stand of pasture that we know will be gone by July 15th, let’s get a plan started to get calves introduced and onto creep no later than mid-June so that we can try to stretch that pasture as much as possible.
Another scenario is if we have older calves that were born in Feb/Mar, we should be looking at using creep now, those calves are old enough and most likely sucking mama dry all day, putting more stress on her when we are trying to get her bred back.
As producers we tend to forget that in one year, at any given moment that mama cow is eating for 2 or 3, never just for herself. Most times she is pregnant while still having a calf at her side. If we can alleviate some of that stress during the summer to help reduce her calorie output, but also increase what is going into next year’s calf, the cow and both calves will be healthier in the long run.
Creep feeding typically takes place in free choice feeders and traditionally we offer a 14% protein pellet. These feeds usually consist of a moderate to high energy concentrate which fulfills the energy and protein requirements above and beyond average milk production of the cow. The average milk production per cow is approximately 13 lbs./day. In order for the calf to meet this requirement in forage, that would require that calf to eat roughly 50 lbs./day in forage or pasture, neither of which a 500 lb calf could consume or accommodate in the rumen.
Calculations should be made by each producer to factor in their specific operation or current situation. Things to be considered when assessing the potential need for creep feed could include, but no be limited to: available pasture, pasture quality, age of cow herd, age of calves, marketing plan of calves (selling in the fall or finishing yourself), are there additional forage sources available in a drought to accommodate calves, current market analysis (what are feeder prices doing, what is the demand, timing of sell), and will the cost of the creep feed offset your initial investment. Let’s take a look at a comparison between the Rangeland Calf Creep 14 and a traditional corn, oats and pellet mix.
As you can see there is a difference in several areas. Starting at a weight of 500 lbs. in both scenarios the differences start with our cost per pound of gain. In this example, there is a difference there of over $0.22 per pound of gain!! That’s a lot of money! When we compare that in an estimated wean weight of 593lbs on calf creep and 570 lbs on the traditional feed this adds up to over $5 per head. As we continue to follow the spreadsheet there is also some opportunity for some extra money by feeding Rangeland Calf Creep 14 with a return over non creep fed calves of 46%!! Or an estimated Return on Investment of $6.68/cwt! On that 593lb calf this equates to an additional $23.47 per head in your pocket!
Now that we have dove into the how’s, when’s, and why’s of creep feeding let’s take a quick look into stretching out those pastures and finding out how we can get our timing to be just right to introduce creep feed. By the time we see the effects of little rain or the loss of pasture it is too late to gain back that condition on those cows and calves. There are tools and sources out there to help you though. Talk with your local NRCS office, they have access to pasture measuring sticks that than can help you can monitor the performance of your pastures. Rotational grazing also helps. Keep in mind to keep those pastures fertilized and your weeds managed so we don’t have an outbreak of plants neither the cows nor calves will eat. The agronomists at All American Co-op Progressive Ag Center can assist you with a pasture management plan from reseeding to spraying; what will work on what weeds and timing of that spraying period. By utilizing these management plans and programs we can be better prepared with a solid plan as to when we are going to need to introduce creep to our calves.