One of the first noticeable responses of cattle to a drought is a drop in cow body condition. Often one of the first management reactions to declining cow condition is to begin creep feeding calves. This does nothing to relieve the cow! A calf will always prefer its mother's milk first and will consume all she produces each day. Creep feeding won't help the cow, but it still can be an option for some producers. Here are some general guidelines on its use. If you have...
Good quality, abundant forage: Creep feeding will probably not pay. Conversions can be over 30 pounds of feed per pound of added gain, as calves will probably be gaining as rapidly as possible on milk and grass.
Low quality, adequate volume forage: A high protein creep feed, soybean meal or cottonseed meal, salt-limited to 1.0-1.5 pounds/head/day consumption can increase calf gains by 0.3-0.5 pounds/day by increasing forage utilization. Conversions can be as low as 2-3 pounds of feed per pound of additional gain.
Low quality, low volume forage: When forage quality and quantity are low, the calf is limited mostly to milk consumption, as digestibility of forage severely limits intake and utilization. A 14-16% protein, grainbased creep will be utilized by calves fairly efficiently as they attempt to replace a lack of forage with feed. Conversions will average 9-10 pounds of feed per pound of added gain.
Will creep feeding pay? Historical CattleFax data says that the October cash cattle prices are roughly equal to June's in a bull market. For the purpose of these two scenarios we'll make a huge assumption that this will hold true in 1998. If so, an additional 60 pounds of weaning weight in October would be worth about $23.00.
If you have adequate forage volume, a pound/head/ day of salt-limited, high protein creep is prescribed. Assume the feed costs about $12.00 per cwt., or $0.12 per pound, or $0.12/head/day, for 0.5 pounds/day of additional gain. So, a $14.40 investment for that 60 pounds of additional weight at weaning puts about $9.00 in your pocket.
If you have little or no grass for the calf to graze along with its daily supply of milk, a low-protein, highenergy creep will be needed. A good commercial 14% creep feed could cost $8.50/cwt. Over the 120-day period, an average daily consumption of 4 pounds might yield the same additional 60 pounds of gain for a cost of $41.00. In this scenario you'd lose about $18.00/head.
Note: When forage conditions are so poor that cows' milk production declines, calves could convert creep feed more efficiently than 8:1. Also, a producer might mix his/her own creep feed for less than $8.50/ cwt. These two qualifications could change the latter analysis considerably.
At this writing, we are experiencing another "extended dry period" through most of our 100-mile service area, and beyond. From Hugo on the east to I-40 on the north to Frederick on the west and to Dallas on the south cooperators describe their situations as "very serious." De-stocking is already under way for most I visited with in early June. There are pockets that have received at least adequate rainfall, but not many.
When grass production slows or stops, and the quality of any standing forage heads south, problems can multiply like grasshoppers. Right now, folks have little or no accumulated forage and are looking at ways to cope. Although many of the problems will be the same from ranch to ranch, solutions could very well be different. No course of action should be considered without first taking inventory of livestock, forage, hay, and feed on hand. Determine the availability and cost of outside hay, rented pasture, traditional and alternative feed sources, as well as the current market prices. This is the minimum amount of information you'll need to analyze your situation. You'll also need to guess when rain will come again because your options must be analyzed within some time frame that you define. Your situation is unique; think through all your options with the most accurate facts and figures you can gather. What works for your neighbor might be opposite of what you should do. If you have questions about creep feeding or any drought management strategies you're considering, give us a call. We're here to help you.