Ignoring the economic benefits of creep feeding calves may result in your leaving money on the table, warns Alan Wessler, veterinarian and director of feed marketing for MFA Incorporated. But by pairing up strong calf prices with nutrition that readily converts nutrients to added pounds of beef, creep feeding can add value to your calves and dollars to your bottom line.

“Without fully functional rumens until they hit about 400 pounds, calves can't fully use the available nutrition in your pastures,” says Dr. Wessler. “And mom's ability to meet his nutritional needs drops as he ages and cool season grasses mature.”

Dr. Wessler suggests that producers check out creep feeding choices with an eye to feed conversion rates. “Creep feeding as early as 60 days of age can result in the best conversion rates, with average conversion rates of four or five pounds of feed per pound of gain over the entire season,” says Dr. Wessler. “That’s efficient gain when compared to creep feeding a seven month old calf with possible conversion rates of 8:1 or higher!”

If you are considering limited creep feeding, try offering free choice creep feed to young calves for a limited time when they will have the best feed conversion rate, as opposed to feeding a limited number of pounds per day.

Ingredient quality drives feed conversion. Depending on stress and disease levels, products with a conversion rate of 4:1 or better can really impact returns. “A calf valued at $1 per pound, converting feed that costs $160 per ton ($0.08/pound) at a rate of 4:1, receives a 3:1 return on each extra pound gained for 32 cents of feed,” says Dr. Wessler. “With today's beef prices, it's time to capture more dollars for the bottom line.”

He notes that high starch ingredients such as corn and oats add fleshiness versus feeds that build frame and muscling. This can be a concern for producers keeping heifers for replacements.

Bottom Line? Combine low FCRs and sound Average Daily Gains with good cost-of-gains for solid returns. Know what you are feeding. Ask for proof of feed conversions from commercial feed products and from commodity mixes. With strong calf prices remaining in the forecast, consider the angles, then capitalize on the available resources to optimize your profits!

Below is a comparison between two sample weights of cattle using the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Weighted Average prices for the week of Oct. 13, 2000. The first calf, having never been creep fed, weighed 550 pounds. The second, having received creep feed with a conversion rate of 4:1, weighed 640 pounds.

Non-creep 550 lbs. @ $0.95 = $522.50

Creep fed 640 lbs. @ $0.91 = $582.40

Creep feed cost $28.80 (360 lbs. @ $0.08/lb. with a 4:1 conversion rate)
Subtract the value of additional feed for the creep fed calf and its value is $553.60

Creep fed value = $553.60
Non-creep value = $522.50

In this case creep feeding returned an additional $31.10 per calf to the producer