“Stress on plants from last summer and fall, as well as this spring’s weather across most of Alberta has slowed forage growth in pastures and hay fields,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “If it stays dry, the amount of growth will be limited, and it is possible that pastures will run out much earlier than normal. In general, 70% of total forage growth occurs before July 15. If significant amounts of rain do not come soon, total growth could be compromised.”
One strategy to stretch limited forage supplies is to creep feed calves throughout the summer. Calves that are 45 to 60 days old can digest grains and use the nutrients to improve growth rates. Says Yaremcio, “An Ontario Ministry of Agriculture factsheet indicates that on poor pastures, for every five pounds of creep feed consumed, calf growth rates improve by one pound. A second advantage of creep feeding calves is that the amount of grass consumed by the calf is reduced which stretches the amount of grass available for the cow.”
Yaremcio adds, “Ohio State University Extension found that calves under 700 lb. eat grain slowly and chew the material sufficiently that processing is not required.” Average daily gain and feed conversion efficiency is equal to that of processed grain.
Using whole oats or barley as the sole ingredient in a creep ration for small calves does not work, explains Yaremcio. “A creep ration requires 14 to 16% protein to “frame out” the skeleton properly and to develop muscle. Intakes generally are in the 2 to 3 lb. per day range for 350 lb. calves and can get as high as eight pounds per day when the calves are 600 to 700 lb.”
“The size of the calf influences the recipe for a home grown creep feed. For calves under 350 lb., include peas at 50% of the mix with oats or barley, or a combination of the two grains,” says Yaremcio. “When the calves reach 500 lb., the amount of peas in the mix can be reduced to 35% of the total.”
“Check local grain prices to determine if the mix is less expensive than a commercial product. The advantage of feeding a pelleted product is that it contains the necessary minerals and trace minerals. If wheat is to be part of the creep feed, inclusion rate should not exceed 20 to 25% of the mix to minimize the chance of acidosis. If no additional protein is added to the creep feed, it is possible to have short fat calves that could be discounted at the auction market come fall.“
A commercially prepared creep ration is another option, adds Yaremcio. “These products should contain a minimum of 75% total digestible nutrients (TDN) and the required 14 to 16% protein content. Screening pellets generally have lower energy content than grain and do not deliver the necessary energy needed to get the additional gains on the calves.”
“Creep feeding the calves for the majority of the grazing season can result in 25 to 100 lb. of additional gain compared to animals that are not supplemented,” says Yaremcio. “If 700 to 800 lb. calf prices stay at the current price of $1.90 per lb. for steers, the calf could increase in value by $47.50 to $190 each, which could be a good return on investment.”