Determining whether or not to creep feed calves is one of the most complex economic decisions a producer has to make. Creep feeding, also known as “preweaning supplementation”, is a way to supplement unweaned calves with feed not available to the mother or other larger cattle. Prior to determining if this approach is right for your operation, it’s important to do a cost-benefit analysis (including labor costs, equipment costs, creep feed costs, conversion of creep to additional gain and market calf price).By the time a calf is three to four months old, milk from a lactating cow only provides half of the nutrients required for the calf to reach its optimum growth potential. Creep feeds help supply these nutrients deficient from the cow’s milk and poor quality pasture.
“At Southern States®, we offer two nutrient dense supplements that are compatible with forage digestion and very low conversion rates, Southern States 16% PowerStroke® and Southern States 14% Jump Start®,” explains Mike Peacock, Manager of Beef Feed Sales.
Forage quality plays a big factor in determining what percentage of protein your calves need. As creep feed is intended to compliment the calves’ diets, lower protein forages will require a higher protein creep feed and vice versa. When using creep feed for replacement heifers, ensure proper growth without the heifers getting too fat as this can negatively impact first lactation and lifelong milk production.
Creep feeders can be purchased at your local Southern States ready to use or you can make them yourself on your farm. Regardless of whether you purchase or make your own - the feeder should keep feed dry; only allow calves access to the feed; be portable and hold at least a week supply of feed. Portability will help you when it is time to rotate your pastures, or you want your herd to graze another area of your pasture.
Purchased creep feeders have a bin for feed storage and gates/panels to keep larger animals out. They come with different options for length and size of grain bin. “One key to managing creep intake with a readymade feeder, is to close down the gage doors on the sides to no more than two fingers width opening,” suggests Peacock. “This significantly reduces waste.”
Plans for homemade creep feeders are available on the internet as well as at your local agricultural extension office. A homemade set-up could be as easy as using fences/gates to keep larger cows out of a designated area where the creep feed is offered. Make sure to allow adequate bunk space per calf. A good rule of thumb is to allot one foot of bunk space for every three calves.
When introducing creep feeding, place the feeders in areas where the cows naturally frequent, such as near water sources, shade, mineral feeders or loafing areas. Once calves are comfortable eating from the creep feeder, you can move it based on your pasture rotation program. Make sure creep feed is continuously available, and if possible keep the feed fresh so it is highly palatable to your calves.
Deciding whether or not to creep feed is based on your operation’s particular circumstances. Generally speaking creep feeding is most beneficial under the following circumstances: during times of drought; when pastures are poor quality; if you fall calve; have poor performing cows; and when feed prices are low and calf prices are high.
To speak to one of our agronomists or livestock specialists in your area find your local Southern States store.