Farmers can consider ‘creep feeding’ calves this summer

Farmers can consider ‘creep feeding’ calves this summer

Producers should be aware of dangers of blue-green algae

The potential of hotter and dryer weather across Alberta could create issues with pastures and forage crops this summer. Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, explains how creep feeding calves could be part of the solution.

“Stress on plants from last summer and fall, as well as this spring’s weather across most of Alberta has slowed forage growth in pastures and hay fields,” says Yaremcio. “If it stays dry, the amount of growth will be limited, and it is possible that pastures will run out much earlier than normal. In general, 70 per cent of total forage growth occurs before July 15. If significant amounts of rain do not come soon, total growth could be compromised.”

One strategy to stretch limited forage supplies is to creep feed calves throughout the summer. Calves that are 45 to 60 days old can digest grains and use the nutrients to improve growth rates. Says Yaremcio, “An Ontario Ministry of Agriculture factsheet ( indicates that on poor pastures, for every 5 pounds of creep feed consumed, calf growth rates improve by 1 pound. A second advantage of creep feeding calves is that the amount of grass consumed by the calf is reduced which stretches the amount of grass available for the cow.”

Yaremcio adds, “Ohio State University Extension found that calves under 700 lb. eat grain slowly and chew the material sufficiently that processing is not required.” Average daily gain and feed conversion efficiency is equal to that of processed grain.

Using whole oats or barley as the sole ingredient in a creep ration for small calves does not work, explains Yaremcio. “A creep ration requires 14 to 16 per cent protein to “frame out” the skeleton properly and to develop muscle. Intakes generally are in the 2 to 3 lb. per day range for 350 lb. calves and can get as high as eight pounds per day when the calves are 600 to 700 lb.”

“A recipe for a home grown creep feed is to include peas at 35 per cent of the mix with oats or barley, or a combination of the two grains,” says Yaremcio. “Check local grain prices to determine if the mix is less expensive than a commercial product. The advantage of feeding a pelleted product is that it contains the necessary minerals and trace minerals. If wheat is to be part of the creep feed, inclusion rate should not exceed 20 to 25 per cent of the mix to minimize the chance of acidosis. If no additional protein is added to the creep feed, it is possible to have short fat calves that could be discounted at the auction market come fall. “

A commercially prepared creep ration is another option, adds Yaremcio. “These products should contain a minimum of 75 per cent total digestible nutrients (TDN) and the required 14 to 16 per cent protein content. Screening pellets generally have lower energy content than grain and do not deliver the necessary energy needed to get the additional gains on the calves.”

“Creep feeding the calves for the majority of the grazing season can result in 25 to 100 lb. of additional gain compared to animals that are not supplemented,” says Yaremcio. “If 700 to 800 lb. calf prices stay at the current price of $1.85 per lb. for steers, the calf could increase in value by $46 to $185 each, which could be a good return on investment.”

For more information about creep feeding calves during summer pasture season, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Dangers of blue-green algae

An Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) water specialist has a warning about the dangers of blue-green algae.

“Blue-green algae is actually cyanobacteria, and can produce toxins that can be very dangerous,” says Shawn Elgert, agricultural water engineer with AF. “It can cause organ damage or even death if ingested by livestock or pets. If you are trying to determine the cause of poisoning, there are other potential toxins on the farm that can also cause damage to cattle such as poisonous plants. An example of this is water hemlock.”

Elgert says the first and most important step is to identify the type of growth. “Blue-green algae can look like blue-green scum, pea soup or grass clippings suspended in the water. You should start watching for it when the temperatures increase.”

If blue-green algae is suspected in a dugout, it is best to be cautious, says Elgert. “You should contact a water specialist to diagnose the growth to determine if it is potentially a toxic growth. You should also remove your livestock from the water source in the interim and prevent them from accessing it. One rule of thumb is that if you can grab it as a solid mass in your hand, it is not blue-green algae.”

If blue-green algae is present, the dugout can be treated using a copper product registered for use in farm dugouts. “Once you treat it, consumption should be restricted for up to a month. The use of copper will break the cells open and release the toxins if present into the water all at once. It’s important that you stop using the water during this time so the toxins can degrade. You can follow up with aluminum sulfate and/or hydrated lime treatments afterwards to remove the nutrients from the water to prevent regrowth.”

Elgert says there are also preventative measures that can be taken to try to avoid the problem. “Temperature is an important factor in the growth of blue-green algae, so a deeper dugout with slopes that are not too flat would help make the dugout water cooler.”

Nutrients are required for growth of blue-green algae. “We have information on how to reduce nutrients from entering the dugout in our Quality Farm Dugouts ($department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex15866) manual. Buffer strips and grassed waterways are examples of how you can reduce nutrients. Dugouts should not be built in the waterway, as sediments can bring more nutrients into the dugout and depth can be lost quickly. Aeration of the dugout can also help improve the water quality. Also, a dye packet can be thrown into the dugout to help prevent photosynthesis from occurring, thereby reducing the growth of blue-green algae. However, one action alone may not be enough to prevent growth.”

Elgert also notes that the wind can push the blue-green algae into highly concentrated pockets where the risk of harm is higher. “Since blue-green algae can rise or fall in the water column, inspection of the dugout should include peering into the deeper part of the water. Always be safe around the dugout by going along with another person and have a rope with a flotation device attached.”

For more information or assistance, contact an AF water specialist at 310-FARM (3276). AF also has a factsheet on this subject entitled Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) in Surface Water Sources for Agricultural Usage ($department/deptdocs.nsf/all/wqe15283).

Submitted by Alberta Agriculture

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