With margins continually being squeezed, there is an increasing need for beef producers to ensure animals reach target market specifications as quickly and efficiently as possible, resulting in reduced total number of days on-farm.

According to Jill Hunter, InTouch feeding specialist for Scotland, there are several stages where improvements can be made, one of which is weaning.

“Ensuring good levels of dry matter intake (DMI) pre-weaning will help with transitioning onto a grower ration and minimise growth checks,” says Miss Hunter.

She explains that, not only does this reduce the number of days on-farm during which cattle are fed an expensive finishing ration, it also produces a better-quality carcass, as growth checks can cause gristle.

“A beef animal that is 20kg heavier at weaning will typically finish 15 days sooner. If the finishing diet costs £1.50/head/day, 15 days less on-farm to achieve the same carcass weight offers potential cost savings of £22.50/head on the finishing ration. On top of this, there’s savings in bedding and labour to consider.”

Miss Hunter says providing calves with creep feed early on is essential to ensuring a well-developed rumen with a large surface area that enables the animal to efficiently utilise grass, forage and hard feed.

“For beef calves to reach target 200-day weaning weights of 300 kg for heifers and 320 kg for steers and young bulls, they must achieve daily live weight gains (DLWG) of 1.3 kg and 1.4 kg respectively. Ideally, calves should have free access to a creep mix and water from two weeks of age to ensure good intakes post-weaning. At the very least, calves should be creep-fed for four to six weeks prior to weaning.”

Once weaned, the creep mix can be reduced gradually, and the growing ration increased over a two to three-week period.

“Calf creep rations should be high in starch, high in protein, include sugar and have plenty of digestible fibre. In Scotland, a typical home-mixed calf creep would include barley, distiller grains or soya, sugar beet pulp and molasses or pot ale syrup.”

Miss Hunter says the advantage of doing a home creep mix is the ability to include long fibre.

“We’ve a growing number of clients who are using a Keenan diet feeder to produce a creep mix for beef calves, and a key advantage of this is the ability to include a small amount, 5 to 7 percent, of long fibre.

“Including straw cut to muzzle length will stimulate cudding, which promotes the development of a healthy rumen. In addition, the Keenan MechFiber mixing action creates the optimal physical presentation for digestion.”

She notes that not all creep feeders will flow if straw is included and suggests leaving the mix out for a day to dry out slightly to help avoid bridging.

The use of InTouch technology can also support home-mixing of calf creep using a diet feeder, Miss Hunter explains.

“Connected to a weighing device on the diet feeder, InTouch guides the operator through the correct loading order, quantity of ingredients and mixing time. This ensures a consistent mix every time, which is vital for calves. The InTouch controller is also very user-friendly, you can store up to 100 different rations for different groups and it will automatically recalculate ingredients when updating animal numbers.”

If choosing to buy a calf creep mix rather than home-mixing, Miss Hunter explains consideration must be given to the quality of ingredients, minerals and any additional additives that are included.

“Minerals are often overlooked when it comes to calf creep mixes,” she says.

“Organic minerals, such as Bioplex® and Sel-Plex® , should be used to optimise calves’ immune systems, and will help ensure they get the best start and avoid any growth checks.”

Miss Hunter says additives also worth considering include Alltech’s Actigen® or Bio-Mos® .

“Actigen and Bio-Mos help support a healthy immune system and improve feed conversion ratio. Both are complimentary additives and can be incorporated into home-mixed or purchased calf creep rations.

“While keeping a tight grip on feed costs is a top priority for every beef producer, the cost of production is determined by efficiency, and early investment in calf nutrition will pay dividends in the long-run by reducing the total number of days on-farm,” concludes Miss Hunter.

[Box out] Top tips for home-mixing a calf creep ration using a diet feeder:

- Have a ration professionally formulated

- To avoid contamination, ensure the mixer is fully emptied before starting a mix

- Use good quality, fresh ingredients

- Be as accurate as possible with quantities, as consistency is key

- Don’t forget to include minerals

- Empty the mix onto a clean, dry surface and store under cover

- Leave mix for a day to dry out slightly to avoid bridging in creep feeder

- Clean creep feeders to avoid the build-up of old, mouldy mix, which can cause mycotoxin contamination