By Gary Sliworsky,
Ag rep, Emo
Creep feeding is providing grain to calves in a location where cows can’t reach it.
It can pay under certain conditions. A shortage of pasture, reasonable feed prices, and a strong calf market are a good bet for success.
However, it must be done at an acceptable cost per pound gain.
The goal is to have a heavier calf at weaning time without putting on a lot of flesh. We want the calves to grow frame, not fat.
Another benefit is that creep feeding provides some relief for cows grazing worn-out pastures.
Calves accustomed to grain also experience less stress at weaning time.
Research indicates that under poor pasture conditions, creep feeding can increase weaning weights by as much as 80 pounds (the grain is providing nutrients not available from the pasture).
On average, eight-10 pounds of grain is required per pound of calf gain. Rations can be simple, like mixed grain, or can be a feed store mixture.
If we consider a gain of 50 pounds, what is the cost per pound of gain?
At an 8:1 conversion and $0.08 per pound of creep ration, we have a cost of $0.64 per pound of gain.
This works out to $32 per calf.
Calves this fall might be in the $1.35-$1.40 range, taken as an average for steers and heifers weighing 550 pounds.
We need to keep in mind that an increase in weight of 50 or more pounds will put the calves in a lower price category.
For example, a 500-pound calf may bring $1.40 per pound for a total of $700. At 550 pounds, the same calf may bring $1.37 per pound for a total of $753.
The extra 50 pounds from creep feeding brought in an added $53. If we take off the feed cost of $32, we have made an extra $21 per calf.
Now what if we have the same scenario, but prices this fall are only in the $1.15-$1.20 range.
A 500-pound calf may get $1.20 per pound for a total of $600. At 550 pounds, the same calf only might bring $1.15 per pound, for a total of $632.50.
Now the extra 50 pounds from creep feeding only brought in an added $32.50—just enough to cover the cost of the creep feed.
It is tough to guess the markets, but the creep ration has to pay! If pasture starts running out, consider creep feeding the calves.
Use your own grain, buy grain from another farmer, or purchase a prepared mix.