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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, August 2004

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

Keep Calves Growing Through the Summer

In late summer, calf growth can slow due to hot weather and declining forage quality. Current high dollar per cwt prices are tempting some producers to sell light calves rather than waiting until fall to sell. However, putting pounds on calves now and delaying sale until the fall will pay in the long run.

Calf value by the pound or by the head
Producers need to look at calf value by the head rather than by the cwt or lb. The bottom line is how many total dollars you get per calf not that you "sold 'em high". Using sale averages from week of July 16, 2004, the value of a heavier calf can easily be seen. That week 4-cwt steers averaged 459 lbs and sold for $134.06/cwt while 6-wt calves averaged 648 and sold for $121.75/cwt. The value of those calves are shown below:

459 lbs @ $134.06 = $615.33
648 lbs @ $121.75 = $788.94

So, the heavier calves would be worth $173.61 more per head than the light calves. Even if calf prices decline towards fall, 6-cwt calves would have to drop to $94.90 to bring in the same money as selling a 4-cwt calf now. All price indicators appear strong, and it should put more profit in your pocket to keep calves until fall.

Calf growth during late summer and early fall
Calves will gain 1.5 to 2+ lbs per day from 4 months of age until weaning. Average daily gain will depend on forage availability and forage type. For example, unweaned calves in the mountains of Virginia grazing Orchardgrass/Bluegrass pastures will easily gain 2 or more lbs per day. However, unweaned calves in Southside Virginia grazing predominately fescue pastures may only gain 1 lb per day. Increasing the amount of legumes in fescue pastures or grazing calves on Bermudagrass or crabgrass pastures will increase average daily gains in the warmer parts of the state. Creep grazing of calves, which allows them access to higher quality forage, will also increase calf weight gain.

Another alternative is creep feeding. Creep feeding is most advantageous when calf prices are high and feed costs are low. Because of exceptionally high calf prices this year, it may be worth creep feeding calves that are grazing fescue pastures, even though feed costs are high. Studies with cow calf pairs grazing fescue pastures in Southern Illinois (a climate much like the Northern Piedmont of VA) demonstrated an advantage to creep feeding unweaned calves (Table 1). In addition, creep feeding for 56 days was much more cost effective than creep feeding all summer long.

Table 1. Effect of creep feeding nursing calves grazing fescue pastures during mid-July through mid-October.
Days on Creep
Item 0 28 56 84
Summer Average Daily Gain, lbs. 1.26 1.58 1.98 2.35
Daily creep feed consumed per calf, lbs 0 6.62 6.28 7.94
Gain to feed ratio, lbs ------ 0.24 0.32 0.30
From Tarr et al., 1994

In the data summarized in Table 1, creep feeding for 84 days gave the highest average daily gains, but calves consumed a total of 667 lbs of creep feed per calf during the summer. Calves creep fed for only 56 days gained almost 2 lbs per day, but only consumed 352 lbs of creep feed during the summer. So there appears to be an advantage in creep feeding nursing calves on fescue from mid-August to weaning compared to creep feeding all summer long.

The value of creep feeding will depend on the cost of the creep feed and the value of the pounds gained. Let's assume that this year each additional pound of calf gain is worth $0.80 and creep feed costs $200 ton. Using the data from Table 1, calves creep fed for 56 days will gain 60 more lbs than non-creep-fed calves. The value of the gain is $48.00/calf, and the creep feed would cost $35.20/calf. So, creep feeding would add $12.80 profit to each calf.

Creep feeds that are based on highly digestible fiber feeds such as corn gluten or soy hulls may produce better gains than corn based creep feeds. Feeds like corn gluten and soy hulls do not cause a depression in ability of the animal to digest forage. Creep feeds should be high energy and contain at least 12% crude protein.

Think about creep feeding or creep grazing calves during late summer this year. Especially consider creep feeding if you are east of the Blue Ridge and grazing fescue. Make sure you put a pencil to creep feeding. For sure, do not sell those calves too early and too light or you will be giving up profit.

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