Profit from creep timing and technique
Creep feeding calves is a well-established management tool that will both increase weaning weight and produce calf gain. By filling the nutritional gap created when milk and forage can no longer meet calf dietary needs, creep feed helps calves reach full genetic growth potential. As with any other management practice, creep feeding must be properly employed to succeed.
To creep or not to creep?
The decision to creep or not to creep depends on whether it increases profit, and the likelihood of profitable creep feeding is much greater in current markets than it was in the past. Creep feeding is more likely to be profitable because 1) it is easier these days to sell flesh on calves than it was 20 years ago; 2) the price slide is much narrower; 3) smaller calves are very efficient
in converting feed to gain.
The primary objective of creep feeding is to put additional weight on the calf before weaning. Creep feed is an effective way to provide growth promotants or feed-through parasite control. Creep-fed calves are usually easier to wean than naive calves. Creep feeding is very effective if you need to stretch limited forage resources.
Type of creep feed
At MFA, we generally see Cattle Charge, Beef Creep and Full Throttle going into the creep feeder. Research data indicate that higher-energy creeps will result in the greater marbling improvement in carcass grade compared to high-fiber creep feeds. Cattle Charge/Beef Creep combine both high energy and high soluble fiber. Full Throttle is the highest energy complete feed that we routinely use as a creep feed. Calves will generally eat 3 to 5 pounds of creep feed a day.
Compared to a traditional corn/oats-based creep feed, creep feeds with higher fiber (such as MFA Beef Creep) have a higher protein concentration. The higher protein level is a better match for the calf’s needs for growth and muscle development, and because digestible fiber has less energy density than starch, high-fiber creep is less prone to exceed energy needs than grain at the same level of intake. Therefore, high-protein, high-fiber creep feed gives the better balance of protein and energy. This combination, along with the correct amount of minerals and vitamins, actually provides the greatest cost advantage.
How much is enough?
Feed intake, requirements for growth and sources of nutrients undergo a cycle of change from birth to weaning. This change is important when evaluating creep-feed economics. Consumption of creep is minimal when calves are young and milk production is high, but it can exceed expectations when milk and grass are unable to meet requirements late in the grazing season. Calves will convert creep feed to gain most efficiently when eating 2 to 4 pounds daily early in the season. Creep feeding efficiencies will decline as calf age and size increase; if creep intakes are over 2 percent of bodyweight there will be pronounced substitution of forage for creep feed. When forages are short due to drought or overstocking, substitution of forage for creep feed will allow for maintaining requisite cattle numbers. If forage is known to be of short supply, then you should consider weaning the calves early and putting them on a backgrounding or growing ration. When early weaning such calves, weaning on Full Throttle is the best match from MFA to keep your calves at top performance.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.