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Creep feeding calves to maximize growth

By JERRY LITTLE

Ag Notes

Creep feeding beef calves can improve animal performance and is especially important in Kentucky’s fall-born calving operations. Creep feeding is simply supplementing nursing calves’ feed supply without the cows also having access to it.

After a calf is 90 to 120 days old, the cow’s milk can only supply about half of the nutrients needed to maximize growth. The other nutrients have to come from elsewhere. In fall-calving herds, that period of time usually occurs in January, February and March when very little pasture is usually available.

High-quality pasture like winter annuals such as wheat, rye and ryegrass are the best supplemental feed for calves but is not always available for creep grazing. Each situation is unique but creep feeding generally is profitable for fall-born calves.

Getting calves to begin eating can sometimes be difficult. One way to aid in the process is to feed their mothers small amounts of ground feed for a few days prior to beginning to creep feed. The calves will learn to eat with their mothers and can soon be switched to the creep feeder.

Creep rations do not have to be complex, but they should be economical and palatable. If the animal will not eat it, then the ration is worthless. Wet molasses or dry distillers’ grains can be used to enhance consumption. It is best to crack or grind grains when possible or if only grain is being fed, to roll it. Byproduct feeds like soyhulls and corn gluten feed can also be used.

There are also commercial creep feeds available and some producers may find that purchasing these feeds is the best method for their operation.

Keeping calves growing during the winter months can be accomplished with a little extra feed. For more information on creep feeding calves or other aspects of beef cattle production, contact the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service.

Jerry Little is the Boyle County extension agent for Agriculture/Natural Resources.