Does it pay to creep feed beef calves?

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Creep feeding is defined as the feeding of concentrates to suckling calves to supplement their mothers’ milk.
Research shows that “creep feeding” will increase weaning weights of beef calves, but many times the gain is not economical for the producer according to Gary Naylor, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist.
Much to consider. “Many factors need to be considered when deciding whether or not to creep feed,” said Naylor. The first factor to consider is the available quality and quantity of forage. “When calves have access to excellent quality forage, the economic advantage of creep feeding is diminished,” said Naylor.
“An abundance of high quality forage like we are experiencing this fall should facilitate better calf gains than normal without creep.”
The cost of the extra gain must also be considered before making the decision to creep feed. Naylor notes that grains and byproduct feeds are relatively high priced this fall. It can also take as many as 7 to 9 pounds of creep feed to get an additional pound per day of gain.
Inexpensive options. Corn gluten feed, distillers grains, and soyhulls are relatively inexpensive this fall compared to corn and should work well in creep feed rations, according to Naylor.
“Recent research has proven that these products were found to be very palatable and gave favorable results when compared to corn/oat grain mixtures,” said Naylor.
Another important factor to consider is the marketing strategy of the producer.
“If you plan to sell spring born calves at weaning, remember that heavier, fleshier calves will be discounted when compared to lighter, leaner calves,” said Naylor.
Creep feeding would not likely be economical when calves are backgrounded on a growing ration after weaning or pastured on stockpiled forage through the winter.
“However, if calves are put on a high concentrate finishing ration immediately following weaning, research indicates that creep feeding may be beneficial,” he said.
When not to creep feed. Naylor says replacement heifer calves should not be creep fed. Any additional weight gained while nursing their mothers will be lost in the growing phase. Also research at the University of Illinois showed that creep feeding has shown to reduce future milk production in heifers.
“In recent years, research has been conducted to determine the benefits of limiting intake of creep feeds,” said Naylor.
In an Oklahoma study, calves receiving limited creep (one pound per head per day of cottonseed meal) were much more efficient in additional weight grain. Free choice creep fed calves took 8 pounds of feed to gain one pound of additional gain while the limit fed calves required only three pounds of feed for each additional pound of gain.
Hand feeding. Naylor suggests hand feeding as the most accurate way to deliver a given amount of creep feed. Portable panels with creep gates and feed bunks work very well with this system.
“When salt is used to limit free-choice feed, start calves on 0 to 2 percent salt until the intake reaches 2 to 3 pounds per day, then increase salt to 5 percent until intake again reaches 2 to 3 pounds. Finally increase salt to 10 percent,” said Naylor.
Creep feeding, along with management practices like vaccinating, deworming, and dehorning will reduce stress at weaning according to Naylor.

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