5 September 1997

Creep keeps up weight gain to aid fast growth

Early introduction of palatable creep is maintaining liveweight gain on one Somerset unit. Emma Penny reports

CREEP feeding is a vital part of ensuring calves maintain good liveweight gains when they are capable of growing fastest.

So say suckler and store cattle producers Bill and Pam White, who farm 38ha (95 acres) on the all-grass Coulsworthy Farm, Combe Martin, Ilfracombe, Somerset.

The 20-head suckler herd of Aberdeen Angus x Hereford and Limousin cross cows are put to a Limousin bull, and calve in March and April. Calves are weaned at housing – in late October or early November – overwintered at Coulsworthy, then sold as stores in July at 15-16 months old.

Creep feeding was not introduced at Coulsworthy until about two years ago when drought meant cows were receiving supplementary feed. Calves were, therefore, creep-fed for the first time, and performed well, so it has remained an important part of the system.

Creep is introduced to calves in early August so they will be eating sufficiently well to maintain growth once grass quality declines and their dams milk yield starts to fall, explains Mr White.

"Calves grow well in the first part of their lives. Feeding creep is worthwhile because it cashes in on that ability."

With weaning in late October some might argue that introducing creep in August is too early, but that is not the case, he says. "It takes calves a while to start eating creep, so introducing it in August means they are likely to be eating an increasing amount as grass declines, avoiding any growth check."

But to encourage calves to take creep, the feed must be palatable, stresses Mr White. This year, he is feeding Sweetmix, which has a protein content of 16% and ME of 13. "It smells sweet, and is available ad lib until weaning."

A creep feeder is used; this was introduced last year as calves were trough-fed in 1995 when creep feed was introduced. "Situating the feeder in the right area is vital. There has to be plenty of room so calves will not be crowded or bullied by cows, otherwise they will be frightened and are less likely to use it.

"It is also best placed where calves spend a lot of time – I tend to put it where calves settle to sleep. Getting calves to use the creep is usually quite easy, as they are inquisitive and will tend to investigate anything new. Once the first few start eating, the rest follow suit."

Ensuring the trough is never empty is also important, he says. "I check the feeder twice a day to ensure there is enough feed, and wait unit almost all has gone before I put another bag in to ensure it is fresh. But it is best not to leave the trough empty. If calves miss a feed too often, they may start to lose interest."

Feeding levels rise throughout the autumn, with calves taking almost 3kg of concentrate a day before weaning. "That may seem like a lot, but that is what they take under an ad lib system. It may appear expensive but it is worth it for the additional condition on the calves before weaning."

In the last few weeks before weaning, Mr White introduces mineralised rolled barley, which will be the main ration after weaning. The gradual change-over helps to maintain intakes after weaning when Sweetmix is discontinued.

Silage is also introduced to calves before they are housed, again to help make the ration transition easier. Depending on silage quality, rolled mineralised barley may be fed at up to 2kg a head a day, but if the silage is high quality, then it alone may be fed, he says.

"The key to maintaining growth is to start creep feeding early, and to change rations gradually. Creep feeding may seem expensive initially, but it does not cost much. The 25kg additional weight at weaning is worth a lot more than the £15 a calf that creep feeding costs." &#42

CREEP FEEDING

&#8226 Introduce early.

&#8226 Palatable feed.

&#8226 Choose site carefully.

&#8226 Ensure feed is fresh.

Creep feeding maintains liveweight gain when grass quality declines, say Bill and Pam White. But creep (inset) must be highly palatable. This year calves at Coulsworthy Farm are being offered the 16% protein Sweetmix.

Creep feeding maintains liveweight gain when grass quality declines, say Bill and Pam White. But creep (inset) must be highly palatable. This year calves at Coulsworthy Farm are being offered the 16% protein Sweetmix.