Is Creep Feed Cost Effective?

– Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

There has been a variety of research done that confirms the advantages of early weaning beef calves, however, there is not a lot of written word about creep rations or even if creep feeding is cost effective. Regardless, Francis Fluharty, research scientist in ruminant nutrition at OARDC in Wooster, has done a significant amount of work with both creep feeding and early weaning at the research station. Fluharty’s thinking is that, especially during times of high grain prices, summer long creep feeding does not pay dividends. However, when grain prices are low and feeder calf prices are high, the opportunity to make money with creep feeding may exist.

Fluharty suggests that the feed conversion of a creep fed calf is probably only 8 to 1. He believes the reason is that by the time a calf is eating much creep, it is also eating a significant amount of grass which “washes” out a fairly large portion of the grain in the calf’s gut before it is digested. By comparison, Fluharty’s research shows that the feed conversion of a weaned calf is about 4 to 1. However, many producers do not like the idea of early weaning due to the increased labor and facility requirements. If a creep feed is used, and the cost per ton is $180.00, then the cost per pound is .09. At a conversion of 8/1, the feed cost per pound of gain is .72 (8 x .09). If feeder calf prices are high, then putting additional pounds on a calf by creep feeding may pay.

Regardless, whether creep feeding a calf or feeding an early weaned calf, Fluharty does NOT like oats in the ration. His rational is that oats are simply fiber and a young calf needs primarily energy and protein to optimize performance, instead. When creep feeding throughout the summer, he suggests a creep ration of cracked corn and soybean meal which has a total of 16-18% protein. For a weaned calf, he suggests a 16% protein ration made of whole shelled corn and a protein pellet with Rumensin/Tylan.

Assuming that producers are only more profitable by producing more pounds of calf from each cow if the cost of a pound of grain is less than the value of a pound of calf, the following strategy may be considered:

1) Begin to creep feed the calves with an 18% whole corn/natural protein pellet at about 80-90 days of age.

2) Wean the calves at about 120 days of age on this ration of whole corn/pelleted protein and very little hay (1/4 – 1/2 pound hay/head). The producer will need to watch the condition of the calves so that the calves don’t get fat, however, by keeping the protein fairly high during the growing phase, fat should not be a problem.

3) Follow a “Buckeye’s Best” health protocol.

This program will provide the opportunity to raise calves that are up to 100 pounds heavier at 205 days of age, heifer calves that will cycle at an earlier age and cows that will breed back easier due to better condition. This will also happen at less total costs due to better feed efficiencies. Another benefit to this program would be a higher livestock carrying capacity of the pasture, especially in late summer. If calves are retained and fed, having the calves on a high-concentrate diet from 120-205 days of age should enhance marbling and result in a higher percentage of the calves grading choice.