Should I Creep My Calves?

April 18, 2010 07:00 PM

By Rick Rasby, University of Nebraska Animal Scientist

This is a question that is commonly asked as producers try to line up spring and summers management considerations, budgets, and calf marketing options. The primary objective of this management practice is to put additional weight on the calf before weaning without making the calves fleshy, especially if sold at weaning. Fleshy calves are discounted in market price. To creep or not to creep really boils down to can be accomplished economically to increase the profit potential for the cow/calf enterprise.

The most common creep feed is high in energy and about 16% crude protein . Data would suggest that high energy creeps will result in the greatest weight gain. Calves will eat about 3.2 pounds per head daily (range 0 to 6.5 lb/hd/da, depends on length of the creep feeding period), a gain to feed ratio of 1 pound of gain to 6 pounds of creep (range1:4.2 to 1:10), and an increase ADG of 0.3 pounds (range 0.15 to 0.65 pound increase in ADG) compared to non-creep fed calves. There are creep diets that are high protein formulations, over 30% crude protein. These formulations are mostly soybean meal or a combination of soybean and cottonseed meal and intake is controlled by inclusion of salt. Overall weight gain is less than energy creeps, daily consumption is about 1.25 pounds per head per day (range 0 to 2.5 lb/hd/da), and gain to feed ratio of 1 pound of gain to 4 pounds of creep (range 1:3 to 1:7).

Creep grazing calves appears to be most beneficial when the forages cow-calf pairs are grazing are low in quantity or quality and high quality creep forage can be grown more inexpensively than conventional creep feeds can be purchased. To implement creep grazing, a producer could plant small pastures of high-quality forage adjacent to pastures grazed by cow-calf pairs. Forages well suited for use in a creep grazing system are high in forage quality and readily available. If the growth of the forage being used as creep forage becomes excessive, allow cows to graze it until the forage reaches a level manageable by the calves alone. Another option in a "cell grazing” situation is to allow access of the next pasture in the rotation to the calves before allowing the cows access.

There are data suggesting that creep feeding has a positive effect of carcass quality. The effect of creep feeding on carcass quality is influenced by the length of the creep feeding period and type of creep feed fed. If calves are sold at weaning, creep-fed calves will be heavier than non-creep fed calves; therefore, more calf weight can be sold. The key is, can this management practice be accomplished economically and increase the profit potential of the cow/calf enterprise? When determining costs for creep feeding, include not only feed costs, but equipment (creep feeder, tractor, and wagon with an auger to fill the feeder if not done by the creep supplier), and labor costs.

Fall calving herds in the midwest are challenged because of low nutrient quality of the forage resource when lactation occurs. The concern, in my opinion, is heifers to be selected as replacements and the challenge for them have ample weigh at weaning and it may be difficult to develop them at a rate that a producer would be comfortable with to get them to reach puberty and cycle before the start of the breeding season. In this situation, creep feeding may be warranted.

As calf weight increases, their value is less on a $/pound or $/cwt basis. In other words, there is a price slide down for calves that weigh 500 pounds compared to calves that weigh 400 pounds. This is important to understand because the added calf weight from creep feeding can not be priced at market value, but should be priced at something less than market price. As an example, a calf price for a 500 pound calf at $1.00 per pound or $500 total and a $5.00/cwt price slide for a 560 or $0.95 per pound or $532 total. Therefore the extra 60 pounds returns an extra $32. The value of each added pound was worth $0.53 ($32/60 lb = $0.53). In 1995 with poorer calf prices, a 500 pound calf would bring about $68.00 per hundred pounds or $340 total. There was a less severe price slide and the heavier 560 pound calf sold for $66.42 per hundred or $372 total (560 x $0.6642 = 371.95). Again the extra 60 pounds brought $32 and the value of each pound of added gain was $0.53. Obviously not all situations result in exactly $0.53 per pound of added gain. However, it is amazing how often the value of added gain is between $0.45 and $0.65! The dollar return for implementing creep feeding can be calculated. If the cost of the creep feed is $10/cwt and the a calf eats on average 3.5 pounds daily, in a 90 day creep feeding period, the calf will eat 315 pounds. The cost of feed for the 90 day creep feeding period is $31.50. In this scenario, the net return from creep feeding is $0.50 ($32 income - $31.50 feed costs = $0.50) per calf. The return from creep feeding in these calculations only includes the feed and no labor and equipment. Do the calculations with your numbers.

When making decisions about supplementing nursing calves, take into account cost and availability of feed and forage options to creep the calves, calf prices, and calf marketing plans. The cost of creep supplementation depends on the cost of creep feed and calf feed conversion.

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