Historically, feeder calf prices decline as weight increases. That relationship of price to weight still exists, but it has narrowed considerably due to the high price of corn and feedlot cost of gain. Feedlots and the market are telling us to make calves heavier at home before selling them as feeder calves.
For several months now, producers who have been able to put economical gains on feeder calves have been paid for their efforts at marketing. At the cow-calf level, many producers have expressed interest in creep feeding spring-born calves between now and weaning to make them heavier at that time. It is pretty easy to put an additional 25-30 pounds on the calves during the next 75 days by creep feeding. The question is whether or not the economics work. During the hot summer months, we usually have one of two forage situations: adequate volume, but low quality; or low volume and low quality. Here are analyses for these two scenarios and the implications for creep feeding.
Low quality, adequate volume forage: Research at Oklahoma State University has shown a consistent economical creep in this situation using a salt-limited, high protein feed (cottonseed meal). This trial showed a conversion of 2.79 pounds of feed per additional pound of gain. With cottonseed meal at $350/T, here's what it looks like:
This net figure doesn't include any fixed or other variable costs, so it's probably a break-even proposition.
Low quality, low volume forage: OSU researchers also summarized several trials using a 14-16 percent creep feed. In this scenario, conversions averaged about 9 pounds of feed per pound of additional gain. A commercial 14 percent creep will cost about $205/T; a byproduct blend of about the same analysis, $195/T. Using an average of the two of $200/T, here's the analysis:
With high calf prices and high feed prices, and the assumptions I've made, mid- to late-season creep feeding will not pay at this time. However, one advantage to creep feeding is the fact that the calves tend to get on feed quicker, stay healthier and out-perform non-creep fed calves during the first 30-45 days after weaning.