Beef Market Advisor

Monday, July 31, 2006

Creep feeding considerations for your ranch

By Travis Maddock PhD

Ah summer. Cows are out grazing (or not, depending on where you live in The Cattle Business Weekly territory), haying has started (or not), and many ranchers are. getting out the creep feeders, preparing to put a little extra pay weight on their calves or hoping to alleviate drought stress on their cows.

But the question often asked is does creep feeding pay? Of course it depends on a number of things like feed costs, conversion or gain efficiency, and market conditions. So let's explore the ups and downs of creep feeding.

Do the calves gain weight? And what is the cost? Over the years, a number of studies have looked at supplementing suckling calves, what we commonly call creep feeding.

A review of this literature summarized. 31 different research trials and found that creep feeding increased daily gains 0.2 to 0.5 lbs./day during the feeding period with an average of 0.4 lbs/Day. When convert-ed to a 90 day creep feeding period, this translates into an average 36 extra pounds at weaning. This is certainly a positive, especially to producers that market their calves at or shortly after weaning.

Efficiency is another question altogether. Gain efficiency is calculated as gain above control divided by creep feed intake (example creep fed calves that gained 0.25 lbs./day more than control and consumed 4 lbs. of creep feed would have a gain efficiency of 0.0625 (0.25/4=0.0625)).

Gain efficiencies found in existing literature ranged from 0.03 to 0.17, however the average for the literature reviewed was 0.11. This means that for every 100 lbs. of creep fed consumed, the calves gained an extra 11 lbs. The average intake of creep feed over all the trials evaluated was 3.6 1bs/day. The cost of creep feed can vary greatly. Commercial creep feeds can run any-where from $120 to $200/tan or . $0.06 to $0.10/lb. in the Northern Plains, depending on protein level, mineral addition, and medication added.

After inquiring with a couple of local producers and feed 'dealers, I settled on an average of $150/ton, or $0.075/lb. Consider this a run of the mill feed, 16% protein and most likely a mix of grain, either corn, barley, or oats; and some co-product, such as wheat midds or soy hulls. This feed would most likely have some sort of mineral mix included as well. Using the gain and efficiencies averages noted above, calculating cost and return is easy. The base numbers would look like this: average gain above non-creep of 0.4 lbs./day with an average intake of 3.6 lbs/day (a gain efficiency of 0.11) and an average cost of $150/ton or $0.075/lb .(this does not include labor, feed transportation, creep feeders, etc.). Over a 90 day feeding period, you could expect calves to gain an additional 361bs. (90 days 0.4 lbs./day = 36) and consume 324 lbs. of feed (90 days * 3.6 lbs/day = 324) at a cost of $24.30 (324 lbs. $0.075/lb = 24.30).

Does it pay?

Let's assume that non-creep fed calves would have an average weaning weight of 535 lbs. and calves creep fed would then wean off at 571 lbs. (very close to benchmark averages for Northern Plain's cowherds). Looking back to the first week of November, 2005, and the average weighted price (including both steers and heifers) for these weights in North Dakota were $126/cwt and $122 /cwt, for 535 and 571 lb. calves, respectively. This means the 535 lb. calves were worth $674 and the 571 lb. calves were worth $697, or a difference of $23.

If the gains and cost of feed were similar to the example above, the producer in this scenario would have lost $1.30 per calf creep feeding (the cost of the 36 lbs. was $24.30). And this didn't even include labor, cost of transporting feed, and other fixed and variable costs. Now keep in mind, that the numbers used to generate this return were averages and assumptions.
Producers should do their own math when determining if they should creep feed or not.

For What It is Worth

Creep feeding is one of those management tools that has pros and cons. The numbers above , especially feed costs, can be managed to make creep feeding appear more attractive. However, the truth of the matter is that the returns on investment generally is not very good, other than bragging right at the coffee shop about waning weights.

On the other hand, more research is under way on the effects of creep feeding, and probably more specifically, on creep feed composition and how this might improve feedlot performance and, probably more important, carcass composition. This may lead to new ideas and improved economics when it comes to utilizing creep feed in commercial cow herds.

Travis Maddock is a native of North Dakota and a PhD graduate of Dakota State University. He owns and operates Cattle Concepts, a beef systems consulting business base in Fargo, ND.

Email at or ohone at 701-541 5533.

posted by Dr. Harlan Hughes 4:44 PM [edit]

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