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Deciding whether to creep feed calves

By Todd Vineyard | Published Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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Some decisions are easier than others where your beef cattle operation is concerned. The decision to creep feed or not creep feed is not an easy one for most producers.

Like most aspects of the beef business, it’s a complex decision that should be analyzed each year since there are a lot of variables involved. Each producer should weigh their variables when making the decision if creep feeding is financially feasible for them.

Creep feeding simply put is a way to supplement forage and milk for unweaned calves with a feed source not available to the mother. Creeping is usually done in free-choice feeders with feeds in the 10 to 15 percent range. A 14 percent protein pellet is the most popular.

Nutritionists say forage quality is the dominant factor in selecting the protein level needed for creeping a set of calves. Therefore, if you are creeping or considering creeping, it would be wise to know the nutritional content of the hay you are feeding.

Work at Virginia Tech reveals that milk from a lactating beef cow furnishes only about 50 percent of the nutrients that a 3- to 4-month-old calf needs for maximum growth. The remaining nutrients must come from another source if the calf is to realize its genetic potential for growth.

Calves full-fed a creep ration will usually weigh 40 to 70 pounds more than non-creep fed calves at 7 to 8 months of age. Four years of research at the University of Missouri showed creep feeding increased the weaning weight of spring calves by 57 pounds and fall calves by 74 pounds.

On average, it takes about 900 pounds of creep to put on each 100 pounds of extra wearing weight. Good creep feeds are available locally for about 15 to 20 cents a pound, which translates to $135 to $180 to put on that extra 100 pounds. Each producer should determine what their price expectations are at weaning, get out the calculator and see if the cost is feasible for their program.

While advantages are obvious, there are also some disadvantages to creeping. Creeping requires some additional labor. It can also produce fleshy calves that are discounted at the market and may even impair future milk production on replacement heifers.

If you have questions about creep feeding and whether it will benefit your operation, call the Wise County Extension office at 940-627-3341.

Todd Vineyard is a Wise County Extension agent.

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