Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Will creep feeding pay in 2014?

Finally we are getting our April showers, but it is past May. The temperatures had been cold and the forages hadn’t grown as rapidly as normal. With the high price of calves and the low cow numbers we expect calf prices to be high this fall. It would be a prudent management decision to economically add pounds to your calves before your sale date.

Implanting is an effective strategy to add weight to young calves. This year most of the calf implants are back on the market and readily available. Research demonstrates that implanted calves return about 30 more pounds than non-implanted calves. Thirty pounds on a $2 plus market results in over $60 more per head. Many of our producers implant at least the steers at turnout time. SDSU data shows a real advantage to implanting or re-implanting calves in August when the preweaning vaccinations are administered. This is especially true in the calves from younger cows. No other investment will give you more return than the implant. If you use the delayed implant strategy in late summer, you will be able to select your replacement heifer and implant the rest.

Pasture management strategies can add pounds to your calves. Creep feeding is commonly used. At best it takes four pounds of creep to produce one pound of calf weight (4:1). In general calves eat about 3.2 pound of creep per day. This usually results in an increased gain of 0.3 pounds per day. Creep feeding tends to be most beneficial when the forages are low in quality and/or quantity. We are not sure what we will receive for forage growth this year, but we can calculate the cost of our creep feed. We must understand that we also must consider equipment costs as well as pasture size.

There are several scenarios used in creep feeding

· Traditional – feeders are pulled to the pasture for easy access by the calves

· Creep-grazing – small pastures of high quality forage is planted next to pasture grazed by cow calf pairs

· Cell grazing – this allows calves access to the next cell of grass before the cows are turned in

· Fall calving – fall caving cows are challenged by very low quality forage and extreme temperature extremes. It is important to maintain a positive energy balance on your calves to allow ample weight gain for adequate physical development.

Supplementation of nursing calves is important means of increasing calf weights, but it must be economical feasible. There are several advantages to creep feeding:

· Improved gains

· Decreased pressure on cows to produce milk

· More consistent calf crop

· Provides bunk training

· Simplifies weaning – less shrink at weaning

· Means of administering group treatments for common pasture and weaning problems

· Positive effect on carcass quality

Disadvantages are:

· Cost

· Over conditioning

· Logistics of delivery

The calf prices offer opportunity for the cow-calf producer. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, or extension specialist to formulate economical management plans to add extra pounds to your calves. They will result in higher profits for your cow-calf operation.