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Should You Creep Feed Ad-Lib

6 July 2017

The advantages of feeding creep ad-lib to spring born calves are –

  1. It maximises their liveweight gain when they are most efficient. For example Peter Eccles at Saughland weighs his calves at birth, when creep feeding starts and at weaning.  Growth rates to the start of creep feeding in July were 1.2 kg per day.  For the remainder of the summer with the cows milk, grass quality and quantity all declining, growth rates increased to 1.4 kg per day.
  2. Increases weaning weights. This is particularly crucial when calves are sold in the autumn, soon after being weaned.
  3. Reduces the weaning check. Heavier weaning weights means milk is a smaller proportion of their energy intake pre weaning.  This results in a smaller check when the calf is weaned.
  4. Calves are fully acclimatised to concentrates. This helps to further reduce the check at weaning and increases growth rates post weaning.
  5. Reducing the check post weaning helps maintain the calves’ immune status, reducing the risk of pneumonia.
  6. Calves will already be acclimatised to ad-lib This makes it simpler and safer to move them onto intensive ad-lib systems by gradually diluting the creep mix with the final finishing mix.
  7. Makes it easier to achieve target turnout weights without stock being overfat. Achieving higher weaning weights and growth rates immediately post weaning reduces the winter liveweight gain needed to achieve the target turnout weight.  This allows –
  • Stock to achieve the target turnout weight and be in store rather than half finished condition.
  • Fewer, if any, concentrates need to be fed over the winter.
  • Overall a similar amount of concentrates are likely to be fed through to turnout by creep feeding ad-lib but with less needed over the winter.
  • This is particularly important for replacements being mated soon after turnout to ensure high growth rates ASAP at grass and maximise fertility.

When Not To Feed Creep Ad-Lib

While it will nearly always be worthwhile introducing some creep feed 2 – 3 weeks prior to weaning/housing, ad-lib feeding for longer cannot be justified for calves due to be finished in their second winter or heifer replacements, targeted to calve down at 3 years.

Forward Creep Grazing

An increasingly common system is creep feeding grass ad-lib, commonly known as creep grazing.  Where the herd is being rotationally grazed, part of the paddock fences are raised to allow the calves to “creep” underneath into the next paddock which then they graze before the cows. Other advantages are:

  • The heavy grazing pressure exerted by the cows can be used to leave a low, uniform sward before the groups are moved on, without penalising the performance of their calves.
  • If necessary calves can be introduced to concentrates in troughs, in the paddocks they are grazing, 2 – 3 weeks before they are weaned and housed.
  • If calves are to be outwintered on strip grazed forage crops etc they will already be trained to electric fences.

Basil Lowman,

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