Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Creep feeding beef calves on pasture is an option you may want to consider. In the past, the costs of creep feeding, including labour, management and purchasing creep feed, made the process questionable. This scenario has changed. With fall calf prices at the levels they are today, and feed price volatility, the economics of creep feeding are constantly changing, so be sure to figure out what kind of benefit creep feeding would give you before going ahead with it.
The benefits of creep feeding will be the greatest for heifers or poor milk producers. If you consider the mathematics of creep feeding, the situation should pay back the cost of feed and the extra work required. Before you embark on creep feeding, consider all your costs, such as the initial cost and depreciation of the feeder, the cost of keeping the feeder full of grain or pellets, and the time required to monitor the feeder during the typically busy months of August through October.
Pure grain or pellets?
Either product can work. Pellets designed for creep feeders are very effective and offer a good balance of energy, protein and fibre. As an added benefit, monensin can be included in the pellet for acidosis and coccidiosis prevention.
Oats are the primary pure grain suggestion, as they have higher fibre levels, so they are less likely to cause acidosis or bloat. Pure oats can be mixed with a mineral medicated with monensin, and should produce similar results to medicated pellets.
Usually, a creep feeding setting is thought of as a steel feeder with steel creep panels, but other methods can be equally effective. A small pen, with fence posts 16 to 18 inches apart, can allow calves into an area with grain in troughs. The same small pen can also be used to feed high quality dry hay, such as vegetative alfalfa or grass hay, which will add additional economic growth to the calves.
A good nutritional foundation:
Creep fed calves are more prepared for the health risks involved in weaning because of the additional fat cover. They are also more familiar with dry feeds and go on to new rations much quicker, causing fewer days with no growth or weight loss. Creep fed calves sold directly at weaning will have a less stressed appearance at auction yards. They will also likely withstand the rigors of transport and co-mingling better than cohorts that are not creep fed.
One further benefit of creep feeding calves is to give the mother cows a break and possibly extend the grazing season slightly. Calves on creep will allow the cows to hold their condition better during times of minimal forage resource. The cows will end the summer growing season with more condition and will require less winter feed for maintenance through a Manitoba winter. There are a lot of reasons to consider creep feeding calves. You should do the calculation before you start creep feeding to make sure the economics make sense with the variables on calf pricing and feed input costs. The Manitoba Farm Management Team has a creep feed calculator that can help you make your decision. The calculator can be found at: www.manitoba.ca/agriculture/farm-management/production-economics/pubs/calculator-calfcreepfeed.xlsx