Making Hay · Beef Checkoff · EPDs · Sustainability · Creep Feeding · Selection · Replacement Heifers · Fertility · Cattle Market · Commodities vs. Beef · Letter to Drovers
"I’m sure there are folks who can make a positive case for creep feeding the calves they sell at weaning, when they might make an extra $7 +/- per head. But creep feeding can only make sense with calf liquidators, and in my opinion those folks aren’t in the beef-raising business. They just raise calves for the folks who actually raise the beef."
Copyright 2000, Slanker Productions, Powderly, Texas
Just MANAGING to get by . . .
by Ted Slanker
The August 1998 issue of the Angus Journal included a supplement titled Feeding Options. In the supplement’s first article, written by Troy Smith, there’s an interesting line. “For the ruminant animal, there’s nothing more natural than range.” Just think about this for a moment. Notice the words “natural” and “range.” Also, “there’s nothing more natural” means that every other situation is less natural. Probably the least natural cattle feeds are chicken manure; dead animal parts; waste products from food, beverage, and candy factories; silage; and grain.
Cattle evolved on this Earth eating green leafy plants, mostly grass. They ate virtually no grain. For an absolute fact they didn’t eat chicken manure; dead animal parts; waste products from food, beverage, and candy factories; and silage. This is important since we know that many of modern man’s leading health problems are due to diets top heavy in Omega 6 fatty acids versus Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 6 fats come mainly from grains. Omega 3 fats come mainly from green leafy plants. For the same reason that diets with high ratios of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3 fats are bad for people, they’re bad for cattle.
Recently a cattleman from Tennessee wrote me asking for my take on the economics of creep feeding. Then he listed a couple of factors I should consider in calculating the “value of gain” as he put it: (1) direct feed costs; (2) slide, which refers to how calf prices per pound drop as weights increase; and (3) discounts for overly conditioned calves.
In closing, the cattleman said, “I agree with almost everything you say.”
Cattle-Raising Approach Still Evolving
His last sentence was quite a compliment. And I agree with him 100%. That’s because I don’t always agree with myself. The proof of that is my cow-calf/stocker/feeder management approach. It has changed dramatically over the years and is still evolving virtually on a daily basis. Unlike some cattlemen, I wasn’t born knowing everything there is to know about the cattle business. I had to learn things over the years, mostly by listening and reading. Ironically, the more I’ve learned the more I’ve discovered that there is much more to learn.
But this doesn’t mean that I can just pile on ideas one after another. There are fundamental principals in the beef business that make up the foundation upon which everything else rests. In other words, there is a natural order to all things. Since the cattle business is not a simple business, I’m pretty confident I’ll never know, much less understand, all aspects of the beef business. So by definition the man in Tennessee can’t always agree with me because he knows some things I don’t and vice versa. So I was flattered that a professional cattleman who could express himself on paper, print legibly with perfect spelling and no cross-outs, agreed with “almost everything” I say. And from the tone of his letter, I think he’ll agree with the rest of my comments on creep feeding.
Since I’m a cattle breeder and I performance test my cattle, I outlawed creep feeding in my program many years ago if for no other reason than it skewed my data and made them unreliable. Then some years ago I took Dick Diven’s Low-Cost Cow/Calf School (http://www.lowcostcowcalf.com). His school taught me that not only is grain a poor cattle feed if you wanted to retain heifers and/or bulls, but I could also manage my entire program without hay, grain, cubes, or protein licks. Consequently, I haven’t thought about creep feeding for 20 years or so other than to say that for me it was a ridiculous practice.
I’m sure there are folks who can make a positive case for creep feeding the calves they sell at weaning, when they might make an extra $7 +/- per head. But creep feeding can only make sense with calf liquidators, and in my opinion those folks aren’t in the beef-raising business. They just raise calves for the folks who actually raise the beef.
Creep Feeding Doesn’t Pay
Texas A&M University (TAMU) has published an Extension Bulletin titled “Creep Feeding” written by Keith S. Lusby and Donald R. Gill. My copy is a reprint dated 12-91. It’s an excellent, multi-thousand-word review of the pros and cons of creep feeding. By and large it concludes that there are few situations where creep feeding pays, and it includes numerous examples of associated problems including how creep feeding heifers can negatively impact their future milking ability.
So instead of analyzing the economics of creep feeding, let’s back off a bit and examine what we’re trying to accomplish in the beef business. First of all, we want to be economically and environmentally sustainable. That means we want to be profitable during every phase of the cattle market cycle with management practices that enhance beef and forage production over the long-term.
The easiest and simplest way to buffer the economics of a program from market swings is to have a cow-calf, stocker, market-on-the-rail approach to beef production. Only a complete program will insulate one’s equity investment from violent market swings while optimizing the profit margin over the long haul.
I’ve already discussed the basic health issues between grain and grass. So if we want animals that can perform their best over time, their health is of primary importance. For optimum health, there is no question that their natural diet is the best diet. This eliminates grain and many other supplements as candidates for creep feeding calves. But it doesn’t rule out creep feeding with forage where calves can “sneak” ahead of their mothers in a rotational grazing program and snack on the best grass in the next paddock. For some producers this makes sense.
Feed Factor Shows Clear Choice
The cost-of-feed factor is another consideration in our goal to be sustainable. I calculate my forage cost at a penny a pound. For comparison I called a local feed store. The fellow said his regular 12% creep cost 7.5 cents per pound and his “really good” medicated 12% creep cost 11.7 cents per pound. Armed with this information I asked myself, “Will my cost of gain go up or down with creep?” According to the TAMU bulletin, “conversion of grain creep to added gain will range from 5:1 to 10:1.” At the 5:1 ratio, the best ratio, the cost of extra gain from creep is $37.50 per hundred. If a 525-pound calf consumes 15.75 pounds of forage per day worth 15.75 cents and gains 1.9 pounds, his cost of gain is $8.29 per hundred. For the life of me I can’t see where I can be an economically sustainable beef producer by jacking up my cost of gain.
Some people will argue against my conclusion. They are calf liquidators (or grain farmers) and they don’t raise beef. They’ve never weaned a grain-fed calf and put him on forage and watched him melt as his rumen adjusts to grass. That also means they’ve never seen a thin calf come off summer pasture and grow like crazy on winter pasture. That’s right--they don’t know about compensatory gain. What this means is that producers who creep feed don’t understand that when cattle are on their natural range they will still get to the end weights their genetics are capable of producing. And the short-term boost from grain before weaning will more often than not be lost when the calf shifts back to its natural range. Unfortunately, some of the nutritional damage caused by feeding the grain will be permanent.
This brings us full circle back to the health issue for both the cattle and the people who consume beef. The proper fatty acid profile for man’s diet calls for a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids to be no higher than 4:1. Grain-fed beef can be as high as a dangerous 20:1. Forage-fed cattle have a favorable 3:1 ratio. Weldon Hawley, manager of the W. T. Waggoner Estate ranch in Vernon, Texas, says his most common reason for culling bulls is “mostly for joint and back problems.” His says he thinks the problem is related to their diet between weaning and yearling when their growth curves were pushed with grain. To me this sounds like grain-feeding cattle is bad for both man and beast! For a fact, culling bulls early because of health problems associated with feeding grain doesn’t sound like an economically and environmentally sustainable operation.
So, my answer to the producer in Tennessee is that there is no place for grain (creep-fed or otherwise) in the cattle business. It doesn’t pass the fundamental test for economic and environmental sustainability for man nor beast.
Copyright 2000, Slanker Productions, Powderly, Texas
Ted E. Slanker, Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org
R.R. 2, Box 175, Powderly, Texas 75473-9740
903-732-4653 Ofc, 903-732-4151 Fax
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