Extension column by Ken Olson, SDSU: Creep feeding – Is 2015 the year?
May 29, 2015
Ten days ago I thought I would be writing this column about management for drought. The rain that has generally fallen over most, if not all, of the Tri-State Livestock News region is a welcome relief. I certainly prefer to write about something more positive than dealing with drought.
The economics of creep feeding varies from year to year based on calf and feed prices. Obviously, the greatest likelihood of creep feed adding more value to calves than the cost of the feed is when calf prices are high and feed costs are low. Thus, 2015 may be a year that creep feeding will pay. The best tool to compare the value of creep-fed vs. unsupplemented calves is a partial budget. A partial budget is simply an economic tool to compare two alternatives.
See the attached side bar for an example of a partial budget for creep feeding. In this example, using creep feed would add $31.25 to the value of each calf. In this example, I suggested about a 50 pound increase in weaning weight due to creep feeding. Also notice the $10 per hundred weight slide on the price as calf weight increases. All costs associated with adopting the new practice need to be included. Feed cost is calculated based on DDGS at $165 per ton, being fed to provide 2 pounds per calf for 100 days. There may be other costs to add that I have not included in the example.
Based on this example, it appears that creep feeding may work economically under current costs and prices. However, other issues should be considered. Key among these is feed conversion, i.e. pounds of feed to add a pound of gain. Unlimited access to a grain-based creep feed can lead to poor conversion, often in the range of 10:1 or worse. Limit-feeding a feedstuff that is a good source of both protein and energy (e.g. DDGS), particularly later in the summer, can substantially improve feed conversion. Limit feeding will keep the calves from substituting the creep feed for grass and milk, instead allowing it to provide additional nutrients. In the example, the creep feed is limited to 2 pounds per day to achieve this goal. Mixing salt with the DDGS will serve as an intake limiter.
One criticism of creep feeding is that calves get too fleshy, which may lead to a discounted price when the calves are marketed. Excess fat deposition in the udder of replacement heifer calves will also decrease future milk production. Limiting creep feed intake will prevent calves from putting on excess additional weight and becoming overly fleshy.
Other considerations should include what the best situations are for creep feeding to be effective. These are basically opportunities to improve feed conversion. One opportunity is when cows have lower than average milk production. This might be a situation where genetic selection to keep milk production low has been purposeful to ensure that cows "fit the environment" when arid conditions means forage is often limiting. Another opportunity for most producers is first-calf heifers because they have not reached maturity and achieved their potential to produce milk. If first-calf heifers are pastured separate from mature cows, providing creep feed to their calves may be the opportunity for the biggest impact. In particular, it may mean that their calves will wean at the same weight as the calves from mature cows, thus creating a more uniform calf crop.
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Finally, if creep-feeding with a limit-fed, moderate protein feedstuff, the greatest impact will be later in the summer and into the fall when protein content in forage has decreased because of forage maturity to levels that do not meet the requirement for growth in calves.
Creep feeding is a practice that typically works well in some production situations and not in others. Each producer should evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of creep feeding in their specific operation and make a decision that best meets their goals and needs.
–Ken Olson is an SDSU Extension Beef Specialist