Question: I would like to mix creep feed for my calves. What are the dos and don’ts and how large should the feeding troughs and feeder space be?
The strategic use of creep feed can significantly improve the growth of your calves, but few verified results about creep feed for calves are available.
This is why Hendrik van Pletzen, Technical Manager at Voermol, decided to do creep feed trials under controlled conditions with calves from first-calf heifers on Carl Durow’s farm near Clocolan in South Africa’s Free State Province.
- The average daily weight gain of the control calves that did not receive any creep feed was 0.658 kg to the 0.974 kg gained by calves on creep feed.
- Creep feed, thus, increased the average growth of the calves by 48%.
- Weaning weight of the control calves (no creep feed) was 210 kg, compared to 263.5 kg of the calves that received creep feed.
- Creep feed is a practice that does not yield favourable profit results under all farming conditions.
According to Van Pletzen farmers should carefully reflect on whether they should use creep feed or not. Take the following factors into account:
MILK PRODUCTION AND CALF GROWTH
- Milk production in meat cattle reaches a peak approximately 2 months after calving and then flattens steadily.
- Calf growth until the age of 2 months is directly dependent on the cow’s milk production.
- The calf becomes more dependent on pasture feed as the cow’s milk production capacity decreases.
- As a result, the availability and quality of the pasture influences calf growth directly.
- A calf that weighs, for instance, 90 kg needs 11 kg of milk daily to grow at a rate of 0.9 kg per day.
- If a cow produces only 7 kg per day, the calf needs a supplementary 2 kg of high-quality pasture feed (dry matter basis) or creep feed to maintain the same growth rate.
- When the calf weighs 180 kg, the cow’s milk production will decrease to about 4.5 kg of milk daily. Then the calf will need 5 kg additional feed to maintain growth.
- In circumstances where pasture quality is weak, like in winter in summer rainfall areas, of during a drought, the calf does not get enough high-quality nutrients because the cow’s milk production decreases a great deal.
- Consequently, the calf goes hungry.
- If the pasture is of poor quality of insufficient, the calf will not reach its genetic growth potential.
- The strategic use of creep feed can solve this problem.
- In years with normal rainfall in summer rainfall areas, good spring rains and calving in the spring, enough high-quality pasture is usually available when calves are about 2 months old.
- As soon as cows’ milk production starts to decrease under these circumstances, calves start grazing actively.
- The plentiful good pasture ensures that calves achieve their genetic growth potential.
- Under these circumstances it is not cost effective to give more expensive high-quality creep feed.
- A cheaper creep feed mix will likely be cost effective with good, growing, natural or planted summer pasture.
- When stud breeding, creep feed under these circumstances is not advised, since creep feed can conceal poor milk production and maternal characteristics.
- Weaning weight is used to determine cow efficiency.
- In the case of a poor cow with poor milk production, her calf will eat more creep feed to compensate.
- Weaning weight will then give a false indication of the cow’s efficiency.
EARLY WEANING OF CALVES
- Weaning weight has a significant effect on the income of a weaner calf production system.
- This is why farmers are tempted to leave calves with cows for longer in order to wean heavier calves.
- The practice to wean calves later than at 7 months of age, shortens the cows’ resting time.
- This has a negative effect on the cows’ condition and subsequent calving percentage.
- In sourveld areas with harsh winters it is extremely important to wean calves early in order to enable cows to have enough reserves built up for the next calving season.
- A ling resting period is especially important for heifers that calved for the first time.
- The use of creep feed makes it possible to wean calves earlier with better weaning weight.
- It is common knowledge that milk production in heifers is lower than in cows and the weaning weight of heifers’ calves can be as much as 50 kg lower.
- The strategic use of creep feed for the calves of heifers will improve their weaning weight meaningfully.
- Old cows (11 years or older) also see a decline in milk production. Creep feed will also improve their calves’ weaning weight.
REPLACEMENT HEIFERS AND FIRST-CALF COWS
- The raising of replacement heifers is a large expense.
- Most heifers in South Africa calve at the age of 3 years.
- Thus, in most cow-calf production systems it takes 3 and a half years before the heifer delivers any income.
- Creep feed allows heifers to grow out faster to achieve their target weight for mating earlier.
The composition of creep feed is extremely important.
- Enough good-quality protein is a prerequisite to ensure that heifers’ skeletal structure grows without them getting fat.
- Excessive marbling in the heifers’ udders affects future milk production negatively and must be avoided.
- Another problem is that the re-impregnation of first-calf cows in most herds is unsatisfactory.
- Creep feed can help to solve this problem and is probably the most cost effective use of creep feed in meat cattle.
- Creep feed will relieve pressure on your heifers, especially under poor pasture conditions, and will improve re-impregnation and weaning weight of calves.
PREPARATION OF CALVES
- A calf that is placed in a feedlot directly from its mother, experiences serious adjustment problems.
- Weaning shock leads to weight loss in the first 2 weeks after weaning.
- This weight must be regained through expensive feed, later.
- A calf that gets creep feed while still with its mother learns to eat from a feeding trough and is less exposed to weaning shock and immune to diseases that generally occur during the adjustment phase in the feedlot.
- This means that creep feed can limit direct and indirect losses during the adjustment phase in the feedlot and is also advantageous to farmers that round off their own calves in farm feedlots.
- The most important aspect of a creep pen is that only calves should have access to the feed.
- The creep feed must not be wasted.
- The creep pen and feeding trough must be sturdy.
- The creep feed is in flour format, which means that the trough must have horizontal or vertical barriers to prevent feed wastage.
- A feeding space of 15 cm to 20 cm per calf is sufficient.
- The openings through which the calves need to fit must be 40 cm to 50 cm.
- The height of the gate should be about 1 m to 1.4 m.
- In the case of cows with small frames, the gate can be 1 m high.
- The “depth” of the creep pen must be at least 1.5 m.
- These measurements are guidelines and must be adjusted to the cattle breed’s frame size.
MIXING YOUR CREEP FEED
- Creep feed must be tasty, well balanced and not dusty to deliver the desired results.
- High-quality protein is a prerequisite for calves to grow without getting fat.
- The creep feed ration must contain ionophores, as well as the correct amount of macro-minerals and trace elements, in the right ratio.
The following creep feed ration has been tested in practice and delivers good results:
- 200 kg of Voermol SB 100 (V4498) and 700 kg ground maize for 1 000 kg of feed.
- Where lucerne meal is available, a maximum of 100 kg of the maize flour can be replaced with lucerne flour.
- Creep feed intake is initially less than 1% of the calves’ weight, but gradually increases to about 2% of their body weight.
- This article was written by Dr. Jasper Coetzee, a small stock specialist, and first appeared in Landbouweekblad.