In summer, calves will be consuming milk and grass so on average a creep feed with 14-16% crude protein (as fed) and 12.5MJ metabolisable energy/kg DM should be adequate. As creep feed is usually made available from a feeder with a hopper it is effectively available ad lib so care is required to prevent rumen acidosis. Initially the creep feed should be diluted with a digestible fibre source such as sugar beet pulp or soya hulls, which can gradually be reduced.
Starting with a high protein content (around 18%) 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 finely ground.
Examples of mixes:
- 1/3 wheat/maize dark grains, 1/3 barley, 1/3 sugar beet pulp with minerals – gradually reducing the sugar beet pulp over time.
- Or a mix of 60% barley, 25% sugar beet pulp, 15% soya and mineral supplement (normally a bag to a tonne 25kg).
A good quality protein source, such as soya bean meal is particularly useful as it is a source of undegradable protein. This will assist the transition to a weaned diet until there is enough microbial protein produced by the developed rumen. If you are using a proprietary feed, choose one with good quality palatable ingredients. If calves are introduced to creep early, some producers have been successful in using high levels of cereals as calves are accustomed to it, however if it is introduced later then not too much starchy feeds should be used to start with. The creep feeders should be kept topped up to avoid the calves overeating in one session, which is likely to occur if the feeders have become empty.
To maximise intake feed must be clean and fresh, so check the trough every day and clean it out if necessary to prevent bridging. It is also essential that calves can get good access to clean water.
Karen Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
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