Creep feeding can mitigate hay shortage

If calf prices stay around current levels, creep feeding could generate nearly $200 in extra revenue

The potential for a poor hay crop is high, and producers facing a shortage should consider creep feeding, says a provincial beef and forage specialist.

“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 hayfields,” said Barry Yaremcio. “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 per cent of total forage growth occurs before July 15. If significant amounts of rain do not come soon, total growth could be compromised.”

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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.

“An Ontario Ministry of Agriculture fact sheet indicates that on poor pastures, for every five pounds of creep feed consumed, calf growth rates improve by one pound,” said Yaremcio. “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.”

Calves under 700 pounds eat grain slowly, chewing it enough that processing is not required.

However, using whole oats or barley as the sole ingredient in a creep ration for small calves does not work, said Yaremcio.

“A creep ration requires 14 to 16 per cent protein to ‘frame out’ the skeleton properly and to develop muscle,” he said. “Intakes generally are in the two- to three-pounds-per-day range for 350-pound calves and can get as high as eight pounds per day when the calves are 600 to 700 pounds.”

Producers can include 35 per cent peas in a mix of wheat, barley, or both.

“Check local grain prices to determine if the mix is less expensive than a commercial product,” he said. “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 per cent 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.

“These products should contain a minimum of 75 per cent total digestible nutrients (TDN) and the required 14 to 16 per cent protein content,” he said. “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 during the grazing season can result in 25 to 100 pounds of additional gain.

“If 700- to 800-pound calf prices stay at the current price of $1.85 per pound for steers, the calf could increase in value by $46 to $185 each, which could be a good return on investment,” said Yaremcio.

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