Creep feed plan needs care
Avoiding growth checks and
pneumonia are key reasons
for creep feeding, but the
system needs careful planning.
Jeremy Hunt reports
OFFERING a highly palatable feed to ensure adequate intake but with a keen eye on cost is the basis of pre-weaning rationing for suckled calves on a Cumbria farm.
Avoiding excessive intakes of cereals is another priority, helping to ensure good health at a time when calves may be under stress caused by autumn housing.
Beef herd manager, Brian Hodgson, is in charge of two herds totalling 150 Limousin-cross, Belgian Blue-cross and Simmental-cross suckler cows at J M and S A Cowens, East Curthwaite, near Wigton.
Most, about 90 head, calve inside during March and April producing Limousin cross calves. Cows and calves are then moved to rented fell land where creep feeders offering a dry bought-in calf mix are put out in late July.
Calves running on lowland pastures with their dams receive no extra feed until housing at weaning in late September or early October.
"Calves on hill land need extra feed in mid-summer, but lowland grazed calves are always in more forward condition at housing. Nevertheless our aim over the three-week weaning period is to achieve the transition with as little disruption to calves as possible," says Mr Hodgson.
"There is nothing abrupt about our weaning and we give it a lot of thought," he says. He is keen to minimise stress-induced pneumonia and settle calves without a check to health and growth rate.
Routine vaccination to give blanket pneumonia cover at housing, costing £10 a calf, has been tried. Individual cases have also been treated.
"It is a stressful time for calves; management at this time is critical," says Mr Hodgson. At housing all spring-born calves can creep from the cubicle-housed cows onto a straw-bedded area where feed – a mix of brewers grains and beet-pulp – is available ad lib.
"Getting over the stress of housing without any pneumonia cases and ensuring calves are moving through into the creep area and eating is the aim. We like to be able to close the creep gate about three weeks after housing," he says.
The grainbeet ration has been used at East Curthwaite for five years and replaced a home-grown rolled barley/protein balancer diet. Brewers grains cost an average of £15/t throughout the year – 500t were ensiled during the summer. On a 4:1 ratio, the mix of brewers grains and beet pulp costs about £25-£27/t.
Because of the succulent nature of this mix, and to avoid the risk of uneaten mix going sour, suckled calves are encouraged to clean-up once a day. Daily intake reaches a maximum of 30kg fresh weight a head offered in two feeds.
"We have learnt not to be stingey with this feed. They want plenty of it, but unlike other ad-lib rations we have not had any digestive problems or suffered bloat."
At weaning, bull calves are grouped separately in straw yards and fed the ad-lib ration to achieve a target weight of 550kg as quickly as possible, usually about 14 months. All stock is sold through Wigton and Carlisle auctions. In the last month, bull calves sold have made up to 104p/kg.
Spring-born heifers are run on a store system based on a maximum daily intake of 8kg grainbeet in winter with most sold off grass at 500kg the following summer. This year a proportion of heifer calves will be selected for retaining as herd replacements.
Autumn-born calves have access to creep feed all winter. Although a cereal-based ration has been fed in the past, they too are now fed the brewers grain and sugar beet mix. Bulls are kept inside after weaning in spring and finished on the ad-lib mix by Christmas.
"Weaning is one of the most important stages of rearing suckled calves. Keeping calves healthy, ensuring buildings have good ventilation and introducing a feed which is palatable and will not cause digestive upsets when consumed in quantity are our priorities," says Mr Hodgson. *
• Avoids growth check at weaning.
• Cheap grainbeet ration.
• Creep mix fed ad lib.
Calves on lowland pasture need no concentrate feed until late September, but those on hill land are creep fed from mid-summer, says Brian Hodgson.