With higher calf prices, is creep feeding an economical choice for beef calves on pasture?

Creep feeding beef calves on pasture is an option that producers may want to consider in 2015. For much of the past 12 years, the costs of creep feeding, including labour, management and purchasing creep feed, made the process questionable.

This scenario has changed. With fall calf prices predicted at $2.50 to $2.70 per pound, and grain prices at very reasonable levels, the probability of profit is high. 

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 mathematics of creep feeding in 2015, most situations should pay back the cost of feed and extra work required.  

The adjacent chart compares cost of feed required for creep feeding. Interestingly, all feed costs are less than $1 per pound of additional gain. 

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 fibre. As an added benefit, monensin can be included in the pellet for acidosis and coccidiosis prevention.  

Oats are the primary pure grain suggestion as it is has higher fibre levels resulting in 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 economical 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. They 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 less stressed appearance at auction yards. They will also likely withstand the vigors 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 a lot of reasons to consider creep feeding calves. At the current value of calves and low cost of grain, 2015 might be the ideal year to add creep feeding to your program.