When considering creep feeding your spring born calves, many factors will play a role in the decision. While it might always seem like a good idea to supplement calves to push them to heavier weaning weights, there are negatives as well. Depending on the milk production, pasture quality and quantity, and time of year creep feeding can be an advantage that allows for more profits.
First, you must decide if the additional cost of feed is worth it. If your calves can gain more weight than they could potentially be worth more money when sold as a feeder calf. However, there are instances where if a calf is too fleshy it will actually be discounted, making the added cost of creep feed an even higher risk. Management is key to the success of creep feeding calves.
There have been studies that show creep feeding calves will improve carcass quality as well. If you are able to capitalize on higher quality grades this may offset even more expenses associated with creep feed. This can be especially beneficial when ownership is retained in calves and they are fed out until harvest. This allows the producer to maximize profit.
Also, time of year and cow's milk production can have a large impact on how creep feeding will affect your calves. If a lactating cow is on lush spring pastures she is much more likely to be able to meet the nutritional requirements of her calf. This calf will also be grazing the higher protein lush grasses as well, allowing it to be more apt in meeting its requirements. However, if it is in the middle of summer and the cow is past peak lactation with an older calf at side it may be beneficial to supplement with creep as the older calf requires more intake.
Probably the most important part of creep feeding is what to feed. Many creep ration options are available for different needs. The most common are grain based diets, but there are also situations where forage diets are an option. In Illinois grain rations are the most typical as we have so many readily available grain resources. Most rations will contain between 13 and 16 percent protein. Oats, barley, and salt are the most common ingredients used in creep feeds. Salt can be especially important in higher protein diets when wanting to limit intake. Feed companies often have many varieties of rations available depending on what the producer has as a goal in creep feeding. All of these rations can be used to best benefit the needs of the producer.
Overall, creep feeding has many benefits, but producers must be aware of disadvantages that accompany these positives. Every operation is different, and what works for one beef producer may not work for the next. You must pay attention to what your own end goal is and if it will be beneficial to add expenses initially to ultimately maximize overall profits.