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Creep Feeding Spring Born Suckled Calves

9 June 2022

Decisions if/when to creep feed will depend on several factors such as cow condition/milk, grass quality in front of cows and calves and what the calves are destined for.  It is well established that the two main reasons for creep feeding are to make the most of conversion of feed to meat at this age and to get calves used to feed and help with the transition to weaning.  It must be noted that creep feeding will directly substitute grass intakes and calves can do very well on grass alone without creep feed if conditions allow (i.e. good weather, good cow condition, excellent grass quality).

Main points for starting to creep feed:

 What to feed – In summer, calves will be consuming milk and grass so on average a creep feed with 14 – 16% crude protein (as fed) and 12.5 MJ metabolisable energy/kg DM should be adequate.  If feeding with a creep hopper it is available ad-lib so care is required to prevent rumen acidosis.  To aid the transition to concentrate feeding and to reduce the risk of acidosis include a digestible fibre source, at the time of writing sugar beet pulp is around £350/t, an alternative to this is soya hulls which although still expensive could be around £30/t cheaper than beet pulp.  Feeding whole oats is another option as they are slower to breakdown and help rumen development.  Calves up to 8 – 9 month of age can be fed whole oats.  This digestible fibre can be gradually reduced over time.  If buying a proprietary feed this may not be necessary as normally these will contain less cereals than used in home mixes (less than 50%) which is good for safety in creep feeding but do check that ingredients are of good quality to encourage good intakes.

Key points:

  • Starting with a high protein content (around 18% dry matter) will also reduce the risk of acidosis. Cereals should be lightly processed (the grain should be just cracked open) otherwise the rate of fermentation in the rumen will be very high and the microbes will produce an excess of acids if cereals are too finely ground.
  • There are several combinations that can be used for home mixes – seek advice to make best use of what you have on farm to minimise additional spend.
  • Alkaline treated cereals (urea treatment plus an enzyme activator) are a good addition to creep feeds (in calves over 3 months old) to help lower acid loading, however also remember that although the cereals are alkaline they are still a very starchy feed the same cautions should be applied as when feeding untreated barley.
  • When home-mixing use a general-purpose cattle mineral added at 25 kg/tonne (or per manufacturers instruction) to supply 25 g of mineral per 1 kg of feed consumed. If using proprietary feeds check whether it is mineralised for the purpose of creep feeding calves.
  • Think about positioning of the creep feeder. If the cattle are spread out over a large area, cows and calves may only come to the creep feeder once a day increasing the risk of calves gorging feed, especially if weather is bad.  Another factor later in the season, is when grazing is poor, calves will eat too much creep which is high cost as well as high risk – a good forage supply is essential to accompany milk and creep feed.  As always never let the feeder run empty.

Mary Young,


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