This week, we will be looking at how to ensure you get the maximum return out of creep-feeding calves.

When feeding good-quality bull calves for either the live export market or the higher end of the domestic market, you will get a good return from feeding meals ad-lib for eight to 10 weeks. However, in the case of plainer-quality bulls or early maturing breeds, such as Angus or Hereford, meals should be fed at 1kg to 2kg/day. The same applies for heifers.

With the exception of very well-muscled heifers, meal should be fed at a rate of 1kg to 2kg/day. For the more muscular heifers, this could be increased to 3kg.

On farms where progeny from the suckler herd are carried through to beef or even over the first winter, there is little point in feeding heavy meals during weaning.

About 1kg to 2kg/day is adequate for these animals, irrespective of quality. The level of meal feeding will have an influence on the type of ration you require. For example, when feeding ad-lib you need a well balanced ration of between 14% to 16% protein. However, when feeding low levels, such as 1kg/day, a standard beef mix is more than adequate.

Table 1 details suitable type rations:

Feeding level daily: 1kg, Typical Mix: 70% rolled barley and 30% citrus pulp.

Feeding level daily: 2kg to 3kg, Typical Mix: 60% rolled barley, 30% citrus pulp and 10% maize distillers.

Feeding level daily: Ad-lib, Typical Mix: 50% rolled barley, 25% citrus pulp, 25% maize distillers or 50% rolled barley, 35% citrus pulp and 15% soyabean meal.

The most efficient way of increasing weaning weight and output value is to ensure calves have an adequate supply of good-quality grass over the next eight to 10 weeks.It is essential that a few paddocks are fertilised and closed up in August to ensure calves have access to good-quality grass from weaning through until sale or housing.

Where possible, select paddocks that are well sheltered, close to the yard and have adequate grass.

Methods of feeding meals to calves

There are many different options of feeding meals to calves that are still suckling the cow. The simplest method is the creep feeder.

These range in size from mobile units that hold between 0.5t and 6t of meal to smaller units that you can hang off a gate.

However, the creep feeder only facilitates the feeding of meals ad-lib and is not suitable for heifers or plainer-quality bulls.

Creep gate

A trough in conjunction with a creep gate works extremely well and has the added bonus of encouraging calves to graze ahead of the cows. Where creep grazing is not possible, some farmers will simply run a strand of electric wire across the corner of the field where the cows and calves are grazing.

The wire will be raised so the calves can get access to the trough while still restricting the cows. In most cases, you will have to stand at the wire while the calves are feeding to prevent any cows limbo dancing underneath. However, it will only take a few minutes for calves to clean the trough and you can use this time to do the herding.

Key points

1) Getting calves onto ad-lib meals is relatively simple when they are still suckling the cow and have an adequate supply of grass. You can simply move in with the creep feeder and the calves will gradually build up intakes. A good tip is to put in the creep feeder at the same time as moving stock into fresh paddocks. The key to avoiding problems is ensuring that the hopper does not run empty and the trough is clean.

2) Getting calves started on meals.

Getting calves started on meals can be a problem. Where there is an issue, you should buy a few bags of the weanling crunch to get calves started and then slowly revert back to a standard ration.

3) Feeding twice per day.

When feeding low levels of meal such as 1kg to 2kg per day, there is no need to feed calves twice a day. However, twice per day feeding is a useful way of checking calves are healthy post-weaning.

Homework for week two

Establish the target market for your calves post weaning and feed meals accordingly.

Plan to have a supply of good quality grass in well-sheltered paddocks for calves post-weaning.

Make sure you have a suitable method of feeding calves meal without allowing the cows access to the trough.

Read more

Read week one here