June 15, 2021
Cash Yount, nutrition consultant with CHS Animal Nutrition, discusses the benefits of creep feeding, which can help give beef calves a good start and preserve pastures during this dry year.
Extremely dry conditions across much of beef country this summer have limited available grazing for beef cow-calf operations. This puts growing calves at a disadvantage and can have additional effects later in the season.
“The primary concern is around pasture management,” says Cash Yount, nutrition consultant with CHS Animal Nutrition. “Maybe a producer typically turns out cows to a particular pasture on June 15, but limited moisture has stunted pasture growth. Or maybe it has to do with reduced allotments on U.S. Forest Service grazing permits — a reduction in the number of cow-calf pairs that they can go out with.”
Long-term financial impacts come with reduced grazing ability and start with milk production, says Yount.
“Reduced dry matter intake for a cow results in reduced milk production for her calf,” he explains. “As those calves mature, their milk intake decreases, and their diet is replaced with dry matter. But if there’s little pasture for the cow, there’s probably not very much left for the calf.” Those deficiencies can result in immunity challenges, which in turn could mean increased vaccine costs as well as sick calves in the weaning pen and reduced weaning weights in the fall.
“Here in Montana, our producers get paid based on the number of pounds of beef on the truck or in the feedlot when weaning is complete,” says Yount. “Immunity is the biggest challenge we face. We can also get calves with pneumonia and, when conditions get even drier, we can have calves with dust pneumonia. If calves aren’t getting very much milk through the summer, those passive antibodies that keep the immune system in check and in good working order are greatly reduced. Ultimately, this can result in a negative financial situation for producers.”
Introduce creep feeding to preserve ROI
Creep feeding can be an effective solution that extends pasture life and boosts calf health and growth.
“When we think about the potential need for liquidation in the cow herd or extending pasture, that’s when creep feeding really shines,” says Yount. “Research trials we’ve done at CHS show that for every 10 calves on creep feed, we can extend or save enough grass for one mature cow. So, each of those calves taking their percentage of dry matter from creep feed is going to leave standing forage for the mature cow. And we know that we’re going to reduce about 40% of the pasture those calves consume when they’re eating about 1% of body weight. So, a 200-pound calf eating 2 pounds of creep feed a day can help extend available forage, plus the calf receives trace minerals such as copper, zinc and manganese, which helps boost immunity.”
Creating an effective creep feeding program
Yount recommends keeping these factors in mind when creating a creep feeding program for beef calves.
- Keep the feed fresh. Appetite is driven by palatability, so don’t just fill the trough at the beginning of the season and leave it. Any labor saved will end up reducing the profitability of creep feeding. Keep product fresh and ensure it flows freely through feeder gates.
- Manage the feeder appropriately. Make sure gates are tall enough to let calves in but narrow enough to keep cows out.
- Keep the trough clean. Calves are social and enjoy congregating inside creep gates. However, this can lead to accumulations of feces and moisture from rainfall in the trough, which reduces feed palatability. Be sure to check the condition of the trough frequently.
- Adjust feeder location. Initially, set the feeder close to water and shade where calves enjoy congregating. As calves grow and reach 400 to 500 pounds, pull the feeder away from shade and water and make them walk further to get the feed so they eat less of it.
Even though a dry season is presenting beef producers with many challenges, creep feeding offers a way to keep calves growing and healthy and ready for success after weaning.