There have been many research projects at major universities across the country over the years to address the economics of creep feeding calves. The research results show that creep feeding has the greatest chance of providing an economic return when the available forage is very poor in quality, coupled with low feed prices and relatively high calf prices.
In a paper entitled, Creep Feeding, Keith Lusby and Donald Gill, both extension specialists from Oklahoma State University, outlined the factors that should be considered when deciding to provide creep feed to calves:
• Calf prices and the effects of added weight and condition on calf prices.
• Feed prices.
• Efficiency of conversion of creep feed to added weaning weight.
• Forage quality and quantity.
• Labor availability.
• Plans for retained ownership.
According to Lusby and Gill, the most critical consideration in a creep feeding program is the cost of added gain. In other words, the selection of a creep feed should be based on cost and efficiency of gain.
Efficiency of gain is measured by the amount of feed it takes to add a pound of gain. Dan Eversole, an Extension Animal Scientist from Virginia Tech University, stated in a paper entitled, Creep Feeding Beef Calves, that the most efficient conversion of creep feed to added weaning weight occurs when nursing calves cannot achieve normal weaning weights without supplemental feed.
Johnny Rossi from the University of Georgia Extension System states that the cost of the additional gain obtained through creep feed must be less than the price received for that gain in order for the creep feeding program to be profitable.
For example, if the value of the additional gain is worth $1.50 per pound, the creep feeding cost had better be less than this amount in order for it to pay.
If you decide to creep feed there are many options. Feed companies have commercially prepared complete creep feeds that work great. There are other options as well including straight whole oats, which worked well in a trial that I conducted here in Idaho County with fall born calves back in 2004.
Rossi from the University of Georgia, recommends to not creep feed heifers that will be kept for replacements. It is proven that if heifers get too fat prior to weaning, they deposit fat in their udders which causes a reduction in milk production when they mature and have calves.
Another potential problem is creep feeding may cause calves to be too fleshy at sale time which may result in price discounts.
Creep feeding may lower gain and efficiency at some point later in the calf’s life. Lusby and Gill from Oklahoma State University stated that, “Feeding programs that alter rate of gain during one phase of growth almost always affect rate and efficiency of gain during subsequent phases of development, and creep feeding is no exception.”
Finally, creep feeding may be too expensive. Producers need to analyze the cost of commercial creep feeds, oats and other high energy feeds to determine if supplementing their cattle with these creep feeds will be profitable.
References: Lusby, Keith., and Gill, Donald., Creep Feeding. Oklahoma State University Beef Cattle Handbook, BCH-5476.
Rossi, Johnny., Creep Feeding Calves. University of Georgia Extension Publication.
Eversole, Dan., Creep Feeding Beef Calves. Virginia Tech University Extension Publication, 400-003.