In light of uncertain times within the beef industry and a lot of factors that you, the farmer, is unable to control, therefore it is essential to look at the factors you are able to control such as weight gain & improved health within your spring calves. This will in turn influence the amount of profit left in your pocket.
When it comes to creep feeding calves the main aims throughout the summer period are:
a) To encourage the development of the rumen of young calves to improve feed conversion at an early age.
b) Improve weight gain at an earlier stage.
c) Take pressure off their mother during lactation.
A) By the time a calf is 4 months of age half its feed requirement should be met by grass, silage or concentrates rather than milk. (R. Jones, 2015)
To allow for this a calf must first develop its rumen to be capable of digesting forage & concentrate efficiently. This is achieved by feeding adequate levels of fibre, sugar and starch to start the rumen functioning.
The quicker this is made available to calves the quicker their rumens develop and therefore the quicker they are capable of converting feedstuffs such as grass, silage & concentrate into weight gain.
It is therefore important to choose a creep feed that will encourage intakes with palatability but also contain adequate levels of nutrients to meet the requirements for sugar, starch and fibre to encourage rumen development with also optimised levels of protein & starch to achieve the elevated rates of weight gain.
B) Feeding concentrate at the earliest stages of life is the most effective way to feed any concentrate. This is because within the first few weeks of life calves will put on 1kg of liveweight for every 1kg of DM fed to them as the calf ages this conversion becomes less and less efficient.
This makes the first few months of age the most economically efficient time to feed calves and can result in weaning weights being increased by around 25-30kg/head dependent on circumstance.
Of course, there is a cost to the creep feed that needs to be taken into consideration however, the return on investment for creep feeding young calves can range from 1.5:1 to 4:1 depending on other variables such as: animal type – such as young bulls, castrated males or heifers - starting date of feeding, or type of creep feed offered, market price and Creep feed price, each of these considered, can add profit to the business.
The below example gives an idea of where cost implications are important to be considered and where profits can be improved.
C) Creep feeding calves also helps to improve energy for the cow’s themselves to increase body condition or improve fertility:
“Creep feed does not reduce milk intake as milk bypasses the rumen and its digestion begins in the abomasum. However, with higher creep feed intakes, less grass is consumed. This leaves more grass available to the cows to help them regain condition.” (R Jones, 2015)