Creep feeding is practiced in the Midwest to increase weight at weaning time. Beef cattle producers make the production decision to creep or not creep feed for a variety of reasons. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages related to creep feeding.
Some advantages of creep feeding include:
- Increased weaning weights
- Getting calves adapted to dry feed
- Decrease the amount of forage intake of calves
Disadvantages of creep feeding include:
- Depending on feed conversions and the slide in calf prices as weights increase, the additional income heavier calves may not cover all the costs of creep feeding
- Milk consumption by calves is not decreased
- Replacement heifers fed creep can develop fat deposits in their udder, and produce less milk throughout their lifetime
- For producers that feed their own calves or retain ownership, the weaning weight advantage might not persist through the finishing phase
The impact of creep feed on milk consumption and future milk production are often forgotten when making creeping decisions. It is important to understand the effects that creep feeding will have on cows and replacement heifers within the herd. Multiple studies support the fact that a calf’s first and foremost preferred nutrient supply is milk. Reed et al. (2006) at North Dakota State University reported no difference in milk consumption between calves fed creep feed and those that were not (Table 1). However, creep fed calves had higher total organic matter intake, which was proportional to the amount of creep, feed consumed. These results show that creep feeding will not reduce the nutritional demands of lactation.
Table 1. Effects of creep feeding on forage and milk consumption.
OM intake, lb./d
OM = organic matter; Adapted from Reed et al. (2006);
Reed et al. (2006) also demonstrated that the calves forage intake (% of body weight) was higher when creep was not fed in the diet. However, Loy et al. (2002) showed no decrease in forage consumption when creep feed was available. The difference could be related to forage and creep feed quality. Calves will always choose milk first then either high-quality forage or creep depending upon what is available. The expected consumption of milk in calves is shown in Table 2 with the highest in June and decreasing through August. As milk consumption decreases throughout the months, forage consumption and creep (if available) increases as expected).
Research conducted at the University of Illinois reported an impact on future milk production from heifer calves that were supplemented with creep feed. Their results show that replacement heifers fed creep as calves had lower milk production during their first lactation (Table 2).
Table 2. Protein concentration in creep feed and its effect on the subsequent lactation of heifer calves.
Milk production, lb./d
52 d postpartum
108 d postpartum
164 d postpartum
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