Economics of creep feeding

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Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

Creep feeding beef calves on pasture is an option that producers may want to consider. There are a number of variables that may impact the return on investment of creep feeding and those may be; the calf sale price and the effects of the added weight and condition of calves; the price of the creep feed; feed:gain ratios of the different creep feeds; forage quality and quantity; labour availability; genetic potential of the cows; average age or lactation number of the cows; plans for the calves after weaning.

The benefits of creep feeding will be greatest for heifers or poor milk producers. Poor pastures compound the benefits of creep feeding.  If you consider the economics of creep feeding, most situations should pay back the cost of feed and extra work required.

Before embarking on creep feeding, all costs should be considered, 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 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 fiber. As an added benefit, monensin can be included in the pellet for acidosis, coccidiosis prevention, and added feeding efficiency.

Oats are the primary pure grain suggestion as it is has higher fiber levels resulting in it being less likely to cause acidosis or bloat. Pure oats should 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/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 with weaning because of the additional fat cover. Calves are also more familiar with dry feeds and go on to new rations much quicker, causing less days of no growth or weight loss. Creep fed calves sold directly at weaning will exhibit a less stressed appearance at auction yards. They will also likely withstand the stresses of transport and co-mingling better than cohorts not creep fed.

One further benefit of creep feeding calves is to give the mother cows a break. 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 many reasons to consider creep feeding calves; however, the economics change significantly from year to year and it is important to calculate the return on investment for your farm.  The Calf Creep Feed Calculator can assist you with calculating the cost and the return on investment.

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