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Creep Feeding Calves in the Fall

Photo credit: Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service (FAS)

Feed quality on pasture declines when forages mature and go dormant in the fall. Lower protein and higher fibre content reduces the amount of forage that cows can consume. Even though the cow is consuming as much feed as possible, nutrient requirements are not met resulting in lower milk production which in turn slows calf growth.

To compensate, the calf eats more available forage but the quality may not be adequate. For example; a 500 pound calf requires the consumed milk and forage to provide 13 to 15% protein and a TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) content of 65 to 68%. Late in the season, mature plants are not likely to have this quality.

To maintain calf growth rates, one option is to provide creep feed to the calves. For calves under 550 pounds, it is recommended to provide a 16% protein creep ration. A possible mixture can contain one-third peas, lentils, or other pulse crop along with two thirds cereal grain, which can be oats or barley or a combination of the two. Wheat, triticale and rye can be used but the risk of bloat, grain overload or acidosis is much higher when feeding these grains.

Calves under 700 pounds do a good job chewing when ingesting feeds. There is no need to roll, crack, or process grains when animals are under this weight. To double check if grain is passing through whole, examine the manure. The number of whole kernels should be minimal. Barley and oat hulls may be present may be shells with nothing inside.

Commercially prepared creep rations have the advantage of containing vitamins, and generally contain higher levels of macro and trace minerals compared to what is found in a homemade creep ration. Compare the costs between a home made and purchased product.

Improvements in weight gain depends on how much creep feed the calves consume. At the start, animals may only consume two or three pounds a day. This may increase gain by half a pound a day. When consumption increases to five or six pounds, gains can be improved by one pound a day.

The other advantage of providing a creep ration is that calves know how to eat grain. When the calves are weaned, they are familiar with eating grain and stress is reduced.

For additional information on creep rations for calves, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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