It’s another tough year for pastures, and producers wanting to stretch limited forage supplies should consider creep feeding calves throughout the summer, says a provincial beef and forage specialist.
“It’s possible that pastures will run out much earlier than normal,” said Barry Yaremcio. “In general, 70 per cent of total forage growth occurs before the 15th of July. Due to dry conditions from last fall and especially pastures that were overgrazed, total growth could be compromised.
However, calves that are 45 to 60 days old can digest grains and Ontario data indicates that on poor pastures, calf growth rates will improve by one pound for every five pounds of creep feed consumed.
“Calves weighing less than 700 pounds 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,” said Yaremcio.
But using whole oats or barley as the sole ingredient in a creep ration for small calves does not work.
A creep ration requires 14 to 16 per cent protein to “frame out” the skeleton properly and to develop muscle. Intakes generally are in the two- to three-pounds-a-day range for 350-pound calves and can get as high as eight pounds a day when the calves are 600 to 700 pounds. A recipe for a homegrown creep feed is to include peas at 35 per cent of the mix with oats or barley (or a combination of the two). If wheat is to be part of the creep feed, inclusion rate should not exceed 20 to 25 per cent of the total grain mix to minimize the chance of acidosis. If no additional protein is added to the creep feed, it’s possible to have short fat calves that could be discounted at the auction market come fall.
Another option is a commercially prepared creep ration. These products should contain a minimum of 75 per cent total digestable nutrients (TDN) and, again, 14 per cent to 16 per cent 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 pounds of additional gain compared to animals that are not supplemented,” said Yaremcio. “If 700- to 800-pound calf prices stay at the current price of $2 a pound for steers, this could increase the value of the calf by $50 to $200 per calf. It’s a good return on investment.”