An Evolution of Sorts

Published on Thu, 05/20/2021 - 8:50am

An Evolution of Sorts.

 By Maura Keller.

 Creep feeding has long been a mainstay across ranches and farms as producers strive to supplement the diet of young cattle with nutrient dense and palatable feed that adult animals can’t access. According to Apache Equipment, which offers a series of creep feeders ranging from 35 to 300 bushels, studies show that creep feeding is one of the most economical ways to add pounds to the weaning weights of calves. In addition, calves that are exposed to creep feeding usually suffer less setback at weaning and adapt to feedlot rations more quickly than calves that aren’t fed a grain-based creep feed.

And while ensuring young cattle have access to nutritional feed, today’s producers are also focused on the ease and accessibility of creep feeders. That’s where the increasingly popular programmable creep feeders come in. As Jason English with Auto Easy Feeder explains, having the ability to program a creep feeder simplifies the process tremendously.
“During the recent winter storm that hit the Texas region, you could see black cattle covered in snow and ice standing at our feeders because they were programmable and set to dispense at certain times,” English said. “This allows the rancher or farmer to stay indoors and stay warm.”

According to English, the Auto Easy Feeder is a programmable livestock feeder that utilizes a 12v power source, which is maintained by a solar cell. The feeder can be programmed to feed up to 80 times per day, with adjustable run-time lengths. In addition, the Auto Easy Feeder dispenses different types and sizes of bulk feed, textured-type feed, as well as, cube feed without any adjustment needed.

“Of course, not all producers have their cattle nearby,” English says. “With programmable timers, this eliminates the need for producers to drive to various locations for feeding, saving on fuel costs and making the entire process that much more efficient.”

Chris Green, president and owner of Green’s Welding and Sales (GWS), offers a 150-bushel portable creep feeder which boasts fold-up creep gates, a ground opening lid with creeps up or down, easy to open lid, feed agitator, adjustable height limiter on creep gates, extra support for creep gates and an ABS plastic bottom.

“We made improvements such as extra supports for creep gates as well as our GWS revolutionary rust proof flat feeder bottom,” Green says. “After years of repairing other old creep feeders, we’ve found the weakness was the V bottom design that rusted out and would need repaired.”

While Green made money on repairing other brand creep feeders, he knew that cattlemen and himself needed something better. Through research and development, Green designed the flat bottom feed pan. The ABS plastic with angle iron cross supports provide longevity and an easy feed system at a reasonable price. In addition, the adjustable feed doors have also been improved to make adjusting feed amounts easier.  

“It seems like now there are some new trends for creep feeders with a lot of bells and whistles so to speak,” Green says. “Cattlemen continue to look for the best buy that gets them to the best quality. Although, we are always looking at ways to improve, tried and true quality can’t be beat. That being said, we are always open to customer input. We continue to strive to build a quality product that meets the cattlemen’s needs.”

Eric McVey, district manager at Behlen Manufacturing says newer innovations on the creep feeder market include feeders on timers that put out a determined amount of feed.

“Ranchers are also looking for a cost-effective way to supplement their calves,” McVey says. Behlen Manufacturing offers a 750 pound and 1200-pound creep feeder.

“Our hopper is different than most on the market, as it is made out of poly instead of metal,” McVey says. “This eliminates rusting issues. Our frame and cage is made out of galvanized material.”

Brad Reuber, marketing manager at Renegade Parts Washers, offer an alternative to creep feeding, The Hanen Automatic Livestock Feeders. This innovative equipment is  programmable and limits feed to the correct nutritional levels and needs of livestock through grain rationing, while limiting feed waste without compromising on livestock growth.

“Each feeder can be programmed to distribute feed up to six times a day. This guarantees a balanced diet throughout the day and creates a calmer, more docile animal,” Reuber says. “Unlike creep feeders which provide a physical barrier that only allows smaller animals access to feed, our Hanen Automatic Livestock Feeders are specifically engineered to distribute feed in a balanced schedule. This eliminates the need to put salt in the feed. Physical barriers can be added to only allow smaller animals to access one feeder, while another feeder can be set for the needs of larger animals.”

The Right Fit
Tarter Farm and Ranch understands every operation will vary from one to the next. That is why they offer products ranging from a 650-pound stationary feeder to a portable feeder that will hold four tons.  

“A producer that runs 100 head roaming on hundreds of acres will have different needs from someone with a handful,” says Kayla Maddox, product Specialist at Tarter Farm And Ranch Equipment. To help determine the best options, Maddox recommends cattle producers evaluate the following questions when determining the ideal feeding mechanism for their needs:  
• How many animals will the feeder accommodate? Make sure you don’t purchase a feeder you have to fill daily. At the same time you want a feeder that will hold enough feed to do the job without the feed setting too long and becoming spoiled.
• Up to what size animal will the feeder accommodate? Make sure your animals will safely fit through the cage.
• Are you looking for a stationary feeder or a portable feeder? There’s nothing worse than filling that feeder with a 1000 pounds and then needing to move it, or filling a feeder with four tons and you have three calves to feed.
• Do you refill by the bag or bulk? It is important to ask yourself what best fits your budget, schedule and your back. If you don’t want to lift bags to refill then make sure you can take that minimum ton order your feed store may require to deliver.
• Evaluate the feed band adjust
• Is the cage removable/ adjustable?
• Are you looking to only restrict large animals but wish to hand feed with a bunk? This could save you some money. “I like to hand feed weaned calves so that I know who is eating and who isn’t,” Maddox says.
• What is your budget?
• How many times do you want to refill in a period of time?

McVey adds that producers need to consider what best fits their operation as well as the number of cattle to be fed.

“How are you going to fill it? Do you have the equipment to handle 50-pound sacks? Bulk sacks? Are you going to mix your own ration?,” McVey says. Will your feed store or feed mill deliver and fill it for you? Are  you going to make your money back that you put into creep feeding when you sell your calves? Is it dry and are the cows needing a little extra help putting pounds on the calves?

Maddox also recommend producers consider creep feeder panels, which are ideal between pastures, sheds, lots, or pre-weaning areas. The calf openings are 18 inches apart and the panels come in 10-foot and 12-foot lengths.

“This method is a great way to allow calves to enter an area to hand feed with a bunk,” Maddox says. “This one is a favorite around our farm. My husband and I like to do this before weaning. It gets the animals in and gentles them down and gets them used to us. Once they are weaned, I do the same thing, if someone isn’t feeling good and goes off feed, I can spot them right away and give them some help. Or you want to allow smaller animals access to another pasture but restrict the larger animals.”

Regardless of which style of creep feeder you go with, there are a few things that producers will want to keep in mind.

“There is a fine line between too much or not enough. Don’t fill the feeder with more than the animal can consume over a length of time, resulting in the feed spoiling,” Maddox says. Also don’t allow the feeder to stay empty several days then refill. This can cause bloat among other health  problems. It is wise to make sure that you keep a check on the feed that has fed out into the trough as well.

“You will also want to rake out any that has been exposed to moisture. A daily inspection could certainly pay off,” Maddox says.

As your animals grow keep an eye on them entering and exiting the cage. Over time as the animals grow, you will want to adjust the cage while still restricting access to those larger animals but allowing those growing animals room to get in and out.

“At some point your calf will outgrow the cage all together. It is important to match the cage size to the size of the animal,” adds Maddox. “If the animal is too big for the cage your investment just crashed. If you have a small herd looking to supplement eight to 10 30 day old calves, that stationary 650 feeder with a smaller cage will work. If you have 50+ animals, you want to think about a feeder that will hold more and has a larger cage.”

Also be sure to pay attention to the placement of the feeder. Make that location a one-stop shop for water, shade, and minerals. Over time when animals congregate it will become muddy or a manure pit and that could lead to foot and health problems. If your feeder is stationary wait until it becomes empty and relocate it. If it is portable, then hook up but don’t forget to raise your leveling jacks and cage when relocating.  

“After you are finished with the creep feeder, give it a good cleaning and store it out of the pasture,” Maddox says. “That way, when you need it again and you bring it out the animals will see something new and start investigating.”

When trying to determine what type of creep feeding equipment to use, as well as the size and proper placement, industry experts can help. At the very least, a producer should work with at creep feeder professional to help determine the ideal equipment and set up for their particular situation. “We can help identify what works best for the number of animals, location, feed times, etc.,” English says. “Our customers” main focus is to make the most of what they are paying for.”