Cattle producers might find that creep-feeding calves is more profitable now than in the past few years, given the current structure of the cattle market.
Value of added weight gain is exceptionally high, from a historical standpoint, said Dave Lalman, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.
"If 500-pound (lb.) steer calves are priced at $1.30 per pound and 775-pound yearling steers are priced at $1.14 per pound, the 275-pound difference in weight is worth $233, or about 84¢ per pound of additional weight," Lalman said.
Lalmans example compares to the normal range of 50¢ to 65¢ value per pound of added weight.
Producers can expect traditional 12%-16% protein, grain-type, creep-feeding programs to produce about 1 lb. of additional weight gain for every 8-10 lb. of creep feed consumed by a calf.
"The conversion efficiency is lower when forage quality is poor and forage availability is limited," Lalman said. "In contrast, the conversion is at the higher end of the range when cattle have abundant access to high-quality forage. In the latter situation, creep feed tends to simply replace rather than supplement the forage."
Calves generally will consume between 4 lb. and 7 lb. of feed per day when they are given free-choice access to feed for at least 60 days, depending on forage conditions.
"Creep feed needs to be reasonably priced or value of added weight gain needs to be high in order for conversion rates to be cost-effective," Lalman said. "If we use a conversion rate of nine to one (9:1) and creep feed costs $145 per ton, each pound of additional weight costs 65¢, not including management costs such as additional labor."
Additional labor, equipment such as creep feeders and increased fleshiness of calves are recognized drawbacks of free-choice creep-feeding.
"If calves consume around 5 pounds to 7 pounds of creep for more than 60 days, they may receive a discount for fleshiness at market time," Lalman said. "Even so, research indicates that free-choice creep-feeding improves quality grade if the calves go straight to the feedyard after weaning."
In addition, researchers have discovered that by limiting creep intake with added salt, conversion efficiency is improved, calves gain more weight, and they do not become fleshy. Intake has been limited to around 3-4 lb. per day, with conversion efficiency improved to around 6:1 or 7:1 rates by including 4%-7% salt in creep feeds with 14%-16% protein.
"Such a program usually works best for cattle grazing forage that is higher in protein, such as fescue, brome or bermuda grass," Lalman said. "If feed conversion is 7:1 and this type of creep feed costs $152 per ton, the feed cost per pound of added weight is 53¢."
Another advantage of such a limit-fed program is that the amount of feed a producer must handle is reduced substantially.
Lalman said Oklahoma Silver, a limit-fed creep-feeding program designed by OSU researchers that targets cattle grazing native range pastures during late summer, may prove to be especially useful to some cattle producers this year.
Late summer and fall native-range pastures typically are deficient in protein, compared to a growing calfs nutrient requirements.
"Calves will consume and digest more forage if a producer includes 8% to 10% salt in a 38%- to 45%-oilseed-meal-based feed," Lalman said. "This will increase weight gain without causing the calves to become fleshy."
Salt should be introduced gradually, so that feed intake is maintained at about 1 lb. per head per day. In previous research, this type of program has resulted in conversion ratios of about 3-4:1.
"If the high-protein creep costs $260 per ton, or 13¢ per pound, the feed cost per pound of added weight gain is 52¢," Lalman said.
Lalman said cattle producers need to do calculations with figures from their specific operations, basing management decisions on an approximate cost of added weight gain from creep-feeding, added labor requirements, forage conditions and current cattle market analysis.
"The structure of the cattle market is subject to change, of course, which potentially could eliminate this apparent opportunity," Lalman said. "However, as of right now, it at least deserves some consideration by a number of producers."
Editors Note: This article was written by Donald Stotts of the OSU Agricultural Communications Services, which supplied this article.