Creep feeding is a way to provide nursing calves with supplemental nutrients by using a gate to restrict the access of cows to the feeding area. The type of creep feeds available vary from grain-based feeds that primarily supplement energy, to limit-fed high-protein feeds, to “green creeps,” which are high-quality pastures grown for the sole purpose of grazing by nursing calves.
Creep feeding for the purpose of increasing weaning weight alone may not be profitable; therefore, the decision to creep feed calves should be based on the analysis of expected increases in performance and income compared to the cost of feed.
The energy and protein requirements of nursing calves are poorly defined. Previous researchers have utilized creep feeding to help correct nutrient deficiencies in nursing calves. However, the first limiting nutrient is variable and likely depends on the forage species and timing within the grazing season.
Calves that are less than 90 days of age receive the majority of their nutrient intake from milk. After 90 days, the calves consume an increasing proportion of their nutrient intake from forage. High-quality pasture is generally the most economical source of nutrients during this period; however, the increase in nutrient requirements for calves from spring-calving herds in the northern Great Plains comes at a time when the nutrient density of pastures is rapidly declining.
When the amount of high-quality forage is limited or unavailable, supplemental creep feeding should be evaluated as an alternative to maintain calf performance.
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