Researchers examine individual calf intakes on feed and milk

Creep feed & Milk EPD: What we learned from tracking individual calf intake

May 12, 2021

4 Min Read
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Genetic trends for Milk EPD across most breeds have continued an upward trend, although direct selection pressure on Milk EPD has not been an over-arching goal of seedstock breeders in recent years. However, creep feeding has become wildly popular in the seedstock industry to maximize animal performance and to condition animals destined for a production sale. Unfortunately, the animal behavior aspects of creep feeding and the individual impact on the dam’s Milk EPD have rarely been studied or quantified. This study used the Super SmartFeed™ (C-Lock Inc., Rapid City, SD) feeder to monitor calf creep feeding behavior and individual intake of creep feed during mid-to late-lactation.
We initially set out to track individual feed consumption amongst calves being creep fed relative to their dam’s Milk EPD. Then track individual performance differences of calves offered ad libitum, limit-fed, or no creep feed. Ultimately, we wanted to determine if creep feed consumption was significantly influencing Milk EPD.
We used 81 spring-calving registered Angus cow-calf pairs (age 3-5) at the McNay Research Farm were used to monitor cow and calf performance as impacted by creep feeding. Pairs were rotationally grazed across cool-season, fescue-based pastures and the mobile Super SmartFeed™ feeder was moved throughout the paddocks. The feeder controlled animal intake and measured total intake per day, number of feeder visits per day and duration of each stay through electronic identification (EID tags).
The calves were split into two milk EPD classifications, based on their dam (Low & High). They were then split again into three creep feeding strategies: 1) No creep feed, 2) limited creep feed access (up to 2 lbs. per calf per day), or 3) ad libitum creep feed access (up to 15 lbs. per calf per day). The calves were born in March 2020; the test started July 30, and concluded October 13 (75 days).
The results were quite alarming! Of the calves that had access to creep feed, 73% from the High Milk (HM) EPD group visited the feeder and consumed feed; only 48% of the Low Milk (LM) group visited the feeder. It is unclear if the unique Super SmartFeedTM design influenced ‘traditional’ creep feeding behavior, additional trials are underway to test this unknown. However, this study indicates that creep feeding behavior could be an aspect of selection for increased Milk EPD, especially since weaning weight is the predominant performance trait used to calculate it.
As one would assume, calves with ad libitum access to creep feed had higher ADG (2.44 for the HM group, 2.28 for the LM group) compared to calves that either refused to consume creep feed or those that weren’t allowed access (1.72 for HM, 1.75 for LM). The limit-fed creep group appeared to gain intermediate to the ad libitum and non-creep groups with the exception of the LM calves offered no creep. Ironically, those calves gained 1.94 pounds per day. The weigh-suckle-weigh data also indicated that the LM no creep cows offered more milk than any other group (6.52lbs.) The poorest milking cows were the HM cows whose calves had ad libitum access to creep feed (5.53lbs.). These findings agree with other previous research that Milk EPD is a rather poor indicator of actual milk production in beef cattle.
If performance information at weaning was submitted on these calves, on average, the calves from the HM group would have a 54-pound advantage over those that either refused to enter the feeder or weren’t allowed. The same holds true in the LM group, where the advantage is 40 pounds. In the genetic evaluation, both the Weaning Weight (WW) and Milk EPDs would reflect the added performance, even though the environmental conditions and the calf’s willingness to enter a creep feeder may actually explain much of the differences in performance.
This data indicates that breed associations may consider alternative methods for calculating Milk EPD, or potentially exclude WW records from calves offered ad libitum access to creep feed. Uncoupling the portion of Milk EPD actually due to additional creep feed consumption versus cow productivity could help commercial producers make better selection decisions by finding genetics that more closely mirror their environmental conditions.
A more in-depth discussion of this trial will occur during the Beef Improvement Federation meetings held this June 22-25 in Des Moines. We hope you’ll join us for the event. Also, a repeat study of fall born calves just recently concluded at the McNay Research Farm. Look to future issues of Growing Beef for those results.

Source: Iowa State Universitywhich is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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