Creep feeding - Improving performance and reducing stress

Creep feeding is a tool that when used correctly helps to maintain growth for the young animal, utilise grass better and manage body condition score of the cow. Seth Wareing the Stabiliser Cattle Company business development manager highlights the importance of this valuable management practice.

As we are progressing through the grazing season the quality of the grass is dropping and the requirements of the young animal are increasing.  There comes a point where milk from the dam and grass is not sufficient to sustain the desired growth rates in the offspring.  It is good practice to creep feed most spring born calves during the second half of the summer.

Creep feeding the calves at this stage will make a significant contribution towards increasing weaning weights and therefore the value of the calf crop.  This is especially important if the intention is to sell the calves soon after weaning.  Creep feeding will also ease the transition of the feeding regime from a grass and milk diet to a winter concentrate and forage ration, when the calves are weaned, generally in October.  Heavier calves at weaning, particularly bulls, will reach their target slaughter weight earlier.

Creep feeding calves at grass is best achieved through the use of creep feeders.  These can be put out in August so the calves get used to going in and out of the feeders. Initially, small amounts of feed are taken, but as grass growth and milk production declines during August and September, the intake of creep feed increases.  This pattern continues until October when the calves are weaned.

Bull calf suckling his Dam

Creep feeding heifer calves, intended for breeding, is not recommended as there is plenty of time to grow them on by feeding them a lower cost diet during the winter. In fact, it is bad practice to over-feed potential breeding heifer calves as a build-up of fat levels around the immature udder can result in poor milk production in later life bull calves should be weaned when they are 7 to 8 months old. To ease the transition over the weaning process and to help acclimatise them to concentrate feeding, it is beneficial to offer creep feed.

Moderate creep feeding for about 6 weeks before weaning will reduce stress and growth checks at weaning. Creep feeding will also utilise the enhanced efficiencies associated with young growing animals and will reduce time to slaughter by 2 to 3 weeks in bulls destined for slaughter.

Target intake of a 16% crude protein creep should be restricted to no more than 2kg per head per day.  The ingredients that are used in the makeup of the creep should be the same as the diet they will go onto after they are weaned.  It does not need to be a complicated blend, a simple mix of barley, beet pulp and a protein source will deliver the results, similarly an off the shelf pellet will do the same job.

You do not need to feed a lot of creep to have an impact on the lifetime performance of the growing animal.  2kgs of creep feed per day for 6/7 weeks will be around 75kgs of creep per male animal.  For a 100 cow herd (assuming 50 bull calves and 50 heifer calves) this will be 4 tonnes of creep for the whole herd for the year.

A group of cows with calves at foot. Ready for creep feeding.
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