How Creep Feeding Calves Can Boost Growth and Profits

How creep feeding works

How Creep Feeding Calves Can Boost Growth and Profits

Providing beef calves with supplementary feed (usually concentrates) before weaning, is known as ‘creep feeding’, and it can make a significant difference to financial returns, but there are certain factors to consider to ensure the best performance and efficiency. A creep feeder, which prevents adult cows accessing the supplementary feed, is used to feed the calf.
The milk of a lactating beef cow only provides 50% of the nutrients required by a young calf for full growth so additional nutrients must be provided from an alternative source in order for the calf to fulfill its potential. The most economical source is high-quality pasture, but this can be a problem for spring-calving herds, and the shift from milk to grass could well come at a time when the availability of fresh, high-quality grass is limited. If quality grass is lacking, creep feeding should certainly be considered.

The potential benefits

Depending on conditions (including feed type, calf genetics, and season), the average increase in weaning weight for a creep-fed calf is 18 kg, with 10–27 kg being a common range. Creep feeding also reduces grazing pressure on available pasture, and accustoms the calf to grain so that weaning is easier. During the hungry-calf gap, when the milk produced by the beef cow dwindles and the calf 's requirements increase, creep feed can provide all the necessary nutrients. So far, the benefits of creep feeding are hard to argue with, but it is not an immediate solution for all production units: viability and financial returns must be considered. For example, some producers might be averse to the cost of the extra feed and feed delivery system. Creep feeding requires close monitoring to ensure feed is restricted to 0.5–1 kg a day to ensure that the calf does not get too fleshy and potentially be discounted by buyers.

Figure 1. Milk yield of a typical beef cow and nutrient requirements of a nursing calf

Milk yield of a typical beef cow and nutrient requirements of a nursing calf

The investment vs. the return

Is creep feeding worth the investment? The cost of the feed must be weighed up against the weight gained by the calf, and the initial purchase of feeders, while the type of feed used and the weather conditions must also be taken into account. For example, Alan Medd at a beef unit in Darlington, UK, ran an experiment with creep feeding one spring, using his own feed comprising homegrown cereals, soya hulls and meal, and pot-ale syrup. His calves gained an extra 100 kg by weaning (at nine months) compared with those later in the year, representing a 4:1 return on investment for bull calves, and 3:1 for heifers. In this case, the figures came out in Mr. Medd’s favor; whether they will on all beef units requires consideration of the particular system and the end market. When selecting creep rations, it is important to consider cost as well as palatability, nutrient content and nutrient quality. Supplements such as Digestarom®, which combines the biologically active effects of phytogenic substances with unique flavoring properties, can increase the benefits of creep feeding. The two main properties of Digestarom® (active ingredients and flavors) encourage feed intake, support digestion, improve nutrient utilization and optimize feed efficiency and performance.

Is creep feeding right for you?

Creep feeding your calves can boost your herd's productivity and, if financially viable, it could deliver a much-needed performance advantage. With a relatively small adjustment to farm management, a program where the rewards far outweigh the costs can be implemented.

In Brief

  • Creep feeding consists of supplying supplementary feed to the nursing calf.
  • The milk of a lactating beef cow only provides 50% of the nutrients the young calf needs. Creep feeding will provide the other nutrients necessary to achieve full growth.
  • Adding Digestarom® to the creep feed can enhance palatability, encourage intake, support digestion and optimize feed efficiency and performance.

Reference

Eversole, D.E. (2009). Creep feeding beef calves. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech. VCE Publications. [Online]. Available from: https://pubs.ext. vt.edu/400/400-003/400-003.html [Accessed 25.09.18].