This year, in my opinion, is one of those years that you can see things lining up for an opportunity. How many folks will cash in on this opportunity? What is that opportunity? I am not a big fan of creep feeding as a blanket recommendation in most years. Excessively conditioning replacement heifers, inducing acidosis and foundering calves, and getting feeders too fleshy are a few of these issues that make some swear off creep feeding.
However, with proper management, creep feeding can be an effective way of putting on pounds pre-weaning. As we think about creep feeding, increased pounds at weaning does not necessarily result in a direct increase in profitability. Feed costs, price slide, equipment investment, and labor are inputs that should be accounted for to more accurately look at the potential increase in profit. In general, creep feeding is profitable if feed costs are low and feeder calf prices are high. Look familiar? This is a year that proper creep management should allow for a nice return if things stay near the range they are currently. In general, creep feeding should be provided for at least the last 60-days before weaning. Now is the time we should be considering to creep those calves to be weaned in November.
Creep feed utilization is optimized at lower rates of supplementation. Partial feed conversions tend to be better when supplement rates are near the 0.5-0.75% of body weight on a dry matter basis while intakes in the 1.5% of body weight range are less efficient. Technologies that limit intake of creep can improve feed conversion. The cost of this technology must be considered to ensure that an acceptable profit margin exists. Salt has long been used as an intake limiter, but it is corrosive to metal and over time will rust out feeders. However, poly-lined feeders or the use of poly-mineral feeders can be utilized to supply creep overcoming this issue. New feed technologies are also effective in limiting intake and can be implemented in creep mixtures to control intakes to improve efficiency of gains.
Creep feeds are generally higher in crude protein to overcome protein limitations in the forage being consumed. Young calves are in a lean phase of growth and supplementing marginal forage can improve calf performance. Often creep feeds will be at least 14% crude protein with some approaching 25% for lower targeted intakes. The protein level should be a function of the expected intake while balancing the protein supply from milk and forage to the calves needs. With ample forage regrowth this fall in the upper Southeast, energy supplementation is needed more so than protein for many operations. Therefore, a 14-18% crude protein range would be acceptable in creep feeds to compliment available pasture forages.
With the availability of low-starch coproduct feeds, the risk of acidosis is much less when feeding these co-products compared to grain-based, high starch creep supplements. However, a mixture of grains and coproducts can be used. Frankly, there is not a single creep feed mixture that is the best for every situation. The composition of the forage, predicted or desired creep supplement intake, and the requirement of the calves needs to be factored in when designing a creep supplement. Also, don't overlook the possibility of creep grazing as it can be a cost effective strategy to add some inexpensive gains.
Below are a few basic considerations when putting together a creep supplement and managing the feeder.
- Keep the fines and dust to a minimum
- Consider feedstuffs and if they will lead to sorting/settling that may lead to inconsistent intakes and nutrient balance
- Avoid adding excessive moisture (i.e. liquid molasses or ear corn that is not dry) as it can lead to caking in feeders* Avoid non-protein nitrogen sources
- Avoid excessive roughage products such as cottonseed hulls that could cause bridging and separation
- When starting to creep, limit the amount placed in feeder and monitor it frequently
- During humid weather, consider more frequent filling to avoid caking
- Keep feeders on a high traffic use pad or concrete to avoid muddy conditions around feeder
The moon and stars have aligned to present an opportunity this year to capture some added value. Contact your county extension office and / or nutritionist to obtain additional information on creep feeding your calves this fall and take advantage of this opportunity.