By Joanne Hay, ECV Nutritionist
Feed costs have taken a dramatic rise in the last year being an average of £40/T higher than that of summer 2020. Creep feeding calves can have long term advantages and is a good investment that provides better returns. Both the livestock sector and market requirements have gone through changes in recent years resulting in efficiency and performance becoming increasingly important for beef farmers. Maximising calf performance at an early stage is a key part for improving efficiency.
Grass quality begins to drop as we get further through the growing season and with the glorious hot weather of late some areas have also seen a reduction in grass availability. It’s an ideal time to start introducing calves to creep feed. By 120 days of age more than 50% of a calf’s nutritional requirements need to be met by feeds other than milk, e.g. grass or concentrates. Calves are most economically productive pre-weaning, with the feed efficiency of spring born calves being higher just now than at any other stage of their life. Their feed conversion ratio (FCR) can be as good as 4:1 at this stage, meaning that 1kg of creep feed could achieve as much as 250g of daily live weight gain. Creep feeding at the pre-weaning stage can prove far more cost effective by gaining you a better return.
Creep feeding calves can have a range of other benefits. Increasing their dry matter intake through access to concentrates, as well as the starch present in these feeds, helps to stimulate good rumen development. This allows calves the best opportunity to reach their genetic potential and can improve weaning weights by an average of 35kg per head, as well as reduce stress during this period. This reduction in stress will minimise growth checks along with pneumonia risk when being housed. Feeding a high-quality creep allows for maximum frame growth, delivers increased weight gain over a shorter time period and provides calves with a better bloom at the time of selling. Supplementing calves can also have benefits for the cow. Access to creep will help reduce the pressure of providing for her calf in late lactation, allowing her to recover condition and ensuring optimum fertility for going back to the bull. These benefits can aid profit margins and calf creep can provide one of the best returns on investment.
East Coast Viners Second Stage Calf Nut + Xtract is a high spec compound feed ideal for creep feeding. It features an optimum protein of 17% and high energy at 12.5ME. Formulated to be high in starch for greater rumen development, it also includes high quality protein sources such as soya for increased levels of DUP. This creep feed supports frame growth while ensuring rumen efficiency. This complementary feed is fully mineralised to promote a healthy immune system. ECV Second Stage Nuts are also formulated to include Xtract, an additive proven to enhance animal performance. This is achieved by improving feed conversion efficiency by up to 7.5%, boosting rumen function and increasing daily live weight gain (DLWG) by as much as 7.9%. Methane production can also be reduced by up to 6%, with Xtract having achieved certification from the Carbon Trust LTD as a proven product leading to the reduction of methane produced by cattle.
Cost per kg
|Cost per kg|
|DLWG||Extra LWG over|
|Extra value at|
|Grass||0 (Control)||0 (Control)||0 (Control)||1.0||0 (Control)||0 (Control)||0 (Control)|
When choosing a potential creep feed for your calves £15-20 per tonne can seem a big difference in price. Table 1 above shows that even a small increase in daily live weight gain can convert to a large lift in overall profit. The difference in the two feeds initially looks to be £15/T but when divided down to cost per kg Feed 2 is only an additional 6p/kg of weight gain. Although more expensive in price per tonne, the extra 0.1kg DLWG that Feed 2 provides results in almost double the profit margin at £31.68 per calf over Feed 1 at £16.56 per calf.
This shows that by providing calves with a high-quality creep feed pre-weaning you are making an investment to maximise their potential, improving efficiency through supporting calf development and in turn boosting performance. Prices may be high this year but calf creep will continue to deliver the best return and benefit profit margins.