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To Creep Feed or Not to Creep Feed?

June 13, 2017

Creep feeding is the practice of supplying additional nutrition to calves to help fully maximize genetic growth potential. It is also a practice that should be evaluated for feed conversion, cost of gain and market price slide when considering the use of additional feed throughout the summer months.
Many different feed resources can be used to creep feed calves, including: grain-based feeds, limit-fed high-protein feeds, “green creep” such as pastures fenced for calf only grazing. Regardless of the feedstuff used for creep feeding, several factors should be considered when including this management practice:

  • The value of the additional gain and possible impacts on calf prices.
  • Feed costs.
  • Feed conversion.
  • Forage quality and quantity.
  • Labor availability.
  • Plans for retained ownership.

Feed Efficiency, Cost of Gain and Profitability
Profitability will depend on pounds the calf gains and what the cost of each pound of gain is. A common assumption is that when calf prices are high, creep feeding is profitable. This may not always be true.

Times to consider creep feeding to achieve the highest returns are when:

  • Forages are too mature for efficient utilization by the calf,
  • Forage quantity is limited,
  • Milk production is limited due either to genetics or because of reduced forage quality or quantity.

Depending on location, drought conditions may cause pasture forages to mature earlier than normal and may also reduce total production which could lead to reduced feed availability for the cow and growing calf.

Feed Efficiency
A major component in determining profitability is feed efficiency (pounds of creep feed consumed per pound of gain). The variation in feed efficiency affects cost of gain. Utilizing a $300 per ton creep feed with an assumed 4:1 conversion rate equates to $0.60 per pound cost of gain. If the conversion rate is 8:1 the cost of gain increases to $1.20 per pound of gain.

Determining the Value of Added Gain
The goal of any added management component is to increase profit at the end of the production cycle. With creep feeding protocols the added pounds need to be evaluated each year to determine if creep feeding will improve profit given the market price for the feed and the calf. To determine creep-feeding returns, first determine the expected average value of the calf crop at weaning by multiplying the expected average weaning weight of the calf without creep feed by the expected price per pound (see Table 1). Then compare the expected increase in weaning weight, the pounds of feed fed, calf price at the increased weight, and expected conversion rate against

Feed conversion combined with calf price and creep feed cost are the main drivers in profitability for an operation that chooses to utilize a creep feeding program. Accurate evaluation of the current forage situation and the additional pounds gained due to creep feeding must be considered, along with the price and type of the creep feed utilized. Comparisons of different creep feed options should also be done to determine the most beneficial option.

When making the comparisons, it is also important to consider what the minimal rate of return on the investment in creep feeding will be considered acceptable. Additionally, adding the cost of creep feeding into the Cow Budget will provide an understanding of the effect this management practice has on the total costs associated with the cowherd.

Other Considerations
There are other considerations regarding creep feeding. Information on limit feeding with salt, the effect of creep feeding on milk and forage intake, post-weaning performance and carcass traits, creep feeding fall-born calves and creep feeding replacement heifers can be found in Chapter 22 of the iGrow Beef: Best Management Practices for Cow-Calf Production book.

Source: Heather Gessner, iGrow