Reducing impact on pastures: creep feeding

  From the September 10, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 One strategy to reduce pasture pressure is to provide creep feed to the calves. Andrea Hanson, livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, explains its benefits.

“Creep feeding improves the plane of nutrition for the calves on poor quality pasture,” says Hanson. “And, it takes some of the pressure off the cows and therefore the pasture. While creep feeding calves does not completely reduce the cows’ nutritional requirements like weaning, it does provide some decline to the cows’ needs.”

Mature or dormant forage is often deficient in protein. Providing feed to the calves to fill those deficiencies - mainly energy and protein - of a mature or poor quality pasture will result in improved growth performance of the calves. “With the calves eating less forage due to the additional feed, more forage is then available for the cows now or further into the fall,” adds Hanson.

Creep feeding is not necessary when the cows are milking well, the pastures contain plenty of high quality forage, calves are being kept for replacements, or the grain price is high - relative to the calf price.

Hanson adds that creep feeding may provide an economic advantage if:

    • The pastures are poor and the calves are not getting the nutritional requirements necessary for growth potential.
    • It is part of a forage management program to conserve pasture forage.
    • As part of a preconditioning program to get the calves accustom to dry feed.
    • The prices for weaned calves are high enough to warrant the feed grain price.
    • Young and older cows could benefit - and they can be separated from the herd – with reduced demands for milk.
The creep feed ration should be a highly palatable, nutrient dense feed. Oats is a good grain source to consider. “Grains too high in energy can lead to digestive upsets, so wheat and corn should be used in limited amounts,” explains Hanson. “Pulse screenings - peas, beans, or lentils - are a good source of protein to add to the feed, but watch consistency from one batch to another. If the calves are under 700 lb., the grains do not need to be processed. The calves will spend more time chewing to break the grains up. Palatability can be enhanced by combining various grains, adding bran and/or molasses, beet pulp, and/or trace mineralized salt. Don’t exceed three per cent by weight of molasses. Otherwise, you could end up with a fly problem, and the feed could get hung up in the self-feeder.”

The Creep Feeding Calves factsheet contains an example of the composition of a creep ration, comprised predominantly of grain and some protein-phosphorus supplement. It should contain:

    • 2.9 to 3.1 Mcal per kg digestible energy.
    • 13 to 16 per cent crude protein.
    • 0.7 per cent calcium.
    • 0.5 per cent phosphorus.
    • Trace mineralized salt.
    • Vitamins A, D, and E.
“When there is little to no pasture for the calves to graze, a higher intake level of higher energy and lower protein feed will reduce the calves’ need to graze,” Hanson notes.

Find more information about Creep Feeding Calves, or contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Andrea Hanson

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Andrea Hanson.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on September 6, 2018.