By Kindra Gordon

Would you like to see a smoother and healthier transition of calves from weaning to going on feed, as well as boost calf weaning weights by 70 to 100 lbs.? What about keeping your cows in better body condition going into fall and post-weaning – and, leaving more grass in your pastures?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, creep feeding calves prior to weaning may merit consideration for your operation, according to Dustin Elkins, a nutrition consultant for CHS. Elkins, works from Richardton, N.D., and says that particularly in drought years when pasture conditions begin to wane in late summer, creep feeding can be beneficial to calves, cows and pastures.

He says, “It’s about $60/head to creep feed for 4 to 8 weeks prior to weaning, and studies have shown calves will put on 70 to 100 lbs.” But, Elkins adds that creep feeding is not just about the extra calf pounds, there is also value from reducing forage use by the calves and lessening lactation needs from cows so they can maintain body condition.

He cites one study that found calves on creep feed consume 38% less forage. As well, Elkins notes that calves who have been on creep feed know how to go to the bunk and eat once they are weaned – and because of the extra nutrition they’ve had from creep feed these calves tend to have stronger immune systems and better rumen function post-weaning. “It’s a seamless transition to the feedlot,” says Elkins.

Additionally, Elkins notes that with the weight boost to calves from creep feeding their harvest date can be moved up, which may help capture better market prices. He gives the example of calves that would normally harvest in June may achieve an April harvest date – a time when calf prices tend to be $10-12/cwt. higher.

From the perspective of the cow, creep feeding calves means lower lactation and maintenance requirements for the cow. This helps her maintain better body condition going into fall and winter, which can mean better nutrition for the fetus she’s carrying and better breed-back results after calving, Elkins explains.

With those benefits in mind, if you decide to give creep feeding the green light, read next week’s Being Bullish column for a dozen tips from Elkins for an effective creep feeding program.