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Cow-Calf Manager:
Value of Creep Feeding Depends on Forage

Livestock Update, July 2000

John B. Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, Virginia Tech

So far this year forage production is looking good, but we are entering that time of year when forage quality can decline rapidly. If dry weather takes hold again this summer, we may run short of forage quality or quantity for maximum calf growth. When pastures decline, we think of creep grazing or creep feeding as a solution to the problem especially when 5 cwt. calves may be $ 1.00 a pound this fall. However, the value of creep grazing or feeding depends on a variety of factors including cost of grazing/feeding, increased gains, value of extra pounds of calf and your current forage program.

Forage programs and creep feeding
First examine your forage program. Do you have enough forage for calves? Is the forage over-mature? Do you rotate pastures or are you continuously grazing? Are you grazing bluegrass and clover in the Mountains or fescue in Southside?

Research from West Virginia and North Carolina indicates no advantage to creep grazing and limited advantage to creep feeding if you are grazing Mountain pastures that are predominately bluegrass and clover or fescue and clover. As long as forage availability is adequate, calves can selectively graze and achieve gains of 1.5 to over 2.0 lbs. per day. Stocking rate is important as well. Calves nursing cows on over-stocked pastures may benefit from creep grazing or creep feeding.

Several studies report increases in weaning weights of calves that were allowed access to creep grazing or creep feeding when they were grazing fescue pastures during hot weather (Table 1). Decreasing forage supply coupled with high temperatures and effects of endophyte-infected fescue results in decreased calf growth in the Piedmont and Coastal areas during July, August and September. A recent study from southern Illinois indicated that creep feeding on fescue was only beneficial from August through October. For Virginia, improved weaning weights could be expected from calves creeped from mid-July until mid-September. The most important point is that putting creep out too early just wastes feed. Calves without creep gained just as fast as calves with creep early in the summer.

Performance of calves grazing fescue pastures with or without creep

 Days on creep feed
Average Daily Gain1.361.782.22.4
Lbs. of creep/d04.14.03.8
Pounds of feed to get 1 lbs. of extra gainN/A978
Tarr et al., 1994

Besides location, grazing management and rainfall are important factors. If you are using controlled grazing moving cattle every week or two, you may not see much benefit to creeping calves. Also, if rainfall in your area has kept the forage growing vigorously especially clovers, you may not see much benefit to creeping calves as calves will selectively graze.

Continuous grazers may benefit from creep grazing of calves. An easy way to creep graze is to place a single high tensile electric fence wire about 35" to 40" above the ground. Calves will soon learn to go under the wire (A few small cows may get under also). Hay fields and areas of the pasture with high concentrations of clovers are good places to creep graze.

In general, calves that don't have good pasture available will be 5% to 12% heavier at weaning if given creep feed or creep grazing. This means an extra 20 to 60 lbs. of calf at weaning. You must be careful to make sure the cost of creep grazing or feeding does not cost you more than you gain.

Value of the extra pounds
Quite often we think if 550 lb. calves are worth $0.95 a pound then every pound we add to the calf is worth $0.95. Actually each one of those pounds is worth less than $0.95. If the average is for 5 cwt calves is $ 0.95, then a 525 lb. calf may sell for $0.96 while a 575 lb. calf sells for $0.94. To calculate the value of the extra pounds you use the following formula:

Value of heavy calf - value of light calf
Extra pounds

The value of an extra 50 pounds of calf relative to this fall's projected prices is shown in table 2. Notice that as the spread between the price per pound of a 550 lb. calf and a 600 lb. calf increases the value of the extra pounds decreases.

Table 2. Calf value and value of additional weight

Price per pound of 550 # steerValue of 550# SteerPrice per pound of 600# SteerValue of 600 # SteerValue of extra pounds
$ 1.00$ 550.00$ 0.98$ 588.00$ 0.76
$ 1.00$ 550.00$ 0.95$ 570.00$ 0.40
$ 1.00$ 550.00$ 0.92$ 552.00$ 0.04
$ 0.95$ 522.00$ 0.93$ 558.00$ 0.71
$ 0.95$ 522.00$ 0.90$ 540.00$ 0.35
$ 0.95$ 522.00$ 0.88$ 528.00$ 0.11

As you can see, if the spread gets much over $ 4 or $ 5, the cost of gain needs to be pretty cheap.

Cost of gain
The cost of a pound of gain based on the amount of feed consumed to gain one extra pound and the feed cost is listed in Table 3. It usually takes about 10 lbs. of creep feed to gain one extra pound (table 1). Based on what we just saw on the value of the extra pounds of gain (table 2), we need to keep our cost of gain below $ 0.50 and maybe closer to $ 0.35 if we are going to make money by creep feeding or grazing.

Table 3. Cost ($/ lb.) of extra gain from creep feeding or grazing

 Feed cost ($ / cwt)
Feed / pound of extra gain456789
Eversole, 1999

Generally, we hope to add a pound of gain on pasture for less than $ 0.40. This cost goes up greatly if you plant summer annuals or other special crops for creep grazing. Keep tables 2 and 3 in mind as you price creep feed or creep grazing.

Creep grazing or creep feeding may be an option for your operation this year. Just weigh all the costs and benefits before you begin creeping calves. A recent Virginia Cooperative Extension publication "Creep Feeding Beef Calves" may help you with your decision on creep feeding.

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