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1999 Beef & Bison Production Field Day

Field peas in creep feed for beef calves

V. L. Anderson

Carrington Research Extension Center
North Dakota State University


In a two year study with 128 cow/calf pairs, wheat midds and field peas were offered in four different combinations as creep feeds. Treatments were reciprocal amounts of dry rolled peas and pelleted midds at 0-100%, 33-67%, 67-33%, and 100-0%, respectively. Feed intake increased (P<.01) with increasing level of field peas in the diet. Calves offered 100% midds consumed 5.89 lbs of creep feed per day compared to 8.72 for calves offered 100% field peas during the 56 day study period. Calf gains increased (P=.06) from 2.82 pounds per day at 100% midds to 3.17 lb at 67 and 100% peas. Gains from 33% peas averaged 3.11 pounds per day. Feed efficiency decreased (P=.02), however, with increasing pea levels. At 100% midds, calves gained .48 pounds for each pound of feed consumed followed by .49, .42, and .38 pounds respectively for 33, 67 and 100% peas. At $2.20/bu for peas and $60/ton for midds, feed costs per pound of gain tended to increase with increasing pea level associated with increased intake and decreased feed efficiency: $.063, .065, .083, and .103 respectively for 0, 33, 67, and 100% peas. The added value of gain over feed costs was greater at 67% peas at $10.83 per head compared to 100% midds. Field peas appear to be a very palatable feed and can be used effectively in creep rations. At higher levels of field peas, feed cost must be considered in relation to return from added calf weight for optimum profit. This study suggests it is economically profitable to feed peas in a creep feed ration.


Field pea acres are increasing in North Dakota for a variety of reasons. These include sustainable crop rotations, nitrogen fixation, on farm feed production, and small grain disease threats. Field peas are most profitable when quality criteria for the human market are met. However, due to the limited market for human food grade peas, livestock will consume the majority of field peas grown in North America.

Field peas are adapted to this eco-region, use conventional equipment, and fix nitrogen in the soil approximately equivalent to 1.25 pounds per bushel of yield. Field pea yields vary with management, but yields of 50 bushels per acre are not uncommon. There is significant demand for North Dakota field peas to be exported to Europe for feed. Peas can contribute to local livestock operations as well. Peas are a versatile feed and can be used in swine, poultry, dairy, sheep, and beef rations. The opportunity cost for using peas as feed, especially beef diets, is not well defined. Peas may best be utilized in scenarios where a limited amount of a nutrient dense diet is required or where the need for dietary protein and energy match the nutrient profile of peas more closely than any other single ingredient. Creep feed meets these criteria. This paper is the final report of a two year study evaluating reciprocal levels of field peas and wheat midds in creep feed diets for beef calves. This project was partially funded by USDA Alternative crops grant 97-34216-3995, ND0517.

Materials and Methods

A total of 128 mature beef cows and their calves were randomly allotted to four treatments with two pens per treatment during the summers of 1997 and 1998. The 56 day trial started after breeding season and concluded at weaning. The four creep feed treatments were field peas and wheat midds at reciprocal levels of 0-100%, 33-67%; 67-33%, and 100-0%. Calves were weighed at the start of the trial and at 28 day intervals. Respective creep feeds were fed and recorded daily based on bunk reading of calf sized feedbunks. Twelve feet of bunk space was provided for the 7 to 8 head of calves in each pen with creep areas located in the corners of the drylot pen. Peas were coarsely rolled and wheat midds were fed as 1/4 inch diameter pellets. Nutrients in peas and wheat midds (Table 1) were not identical but the protein content of each exceeded recommended levels for creep feed (14-16%). Calves were fed between 9 and 11 AM each day which was immediately after when their dams had been fed. All cows were fed the same totally mixed diet in fenceline bunks once daily. The British crossbred cows were fed to meet NRC (1984) requirements for average milking cows.

Table 1. Nutrients in field peas and wheat midds used in creep feed diets

Item                                                                             Field Peas Wheat Midds
Dry matter                                                                                             89.9                       88.9
                                                                                               ---------Dry matter basis----------
Crude protein                                                                                          22.8                      17.9
Fat 1.2 5.6
Ash 3.5 5.1
Acid detergent fiber 8.2 12.1
Neutral detergent fiber 15.6 41.3
Calcium .05 .07
Phosphorous .48 .92


Results and Discussion

Creep feed intake, calf gains, and gain per unit feed ( Table 2) appear to be influenced by amount of peas in the diet. Feed intake increased during the entire

study period (P<.01)) with increasing peas in the diet. Even during the first 28 day weigh period, peas provided a much more palatable diet and intake improved with increasing amounts of peas. Averaged over the entire trial, daily feed intake was 5.89, 6.43, 7.63, and 8.72 pounds per head. There is more acid detergent fiber (ADF) in wheat midds which can reduce intake but the change in intake appears to be greater than would be accounted for by the fiber fraction. If peas consistently improve intake at modest levels, this new nutrient dense grain could become a staple in feedlot receiving diets as well as creep feeds.

Average daily gains (Table 2) for the 56 day study were 2.82, 3.11, 3.17, and 3.17 for 0, 33, 67, and 100% peas, respectively. Gains increased (P=.06) with increasing peas in the diet. The improvement in gain from the addition of peas to the ration, however, is not proportional to the increase in intake. This results in increased feed cost per unit gain at the higher pea levels. This supported by the reduction (P<.05) in feed efficiency (gain per unit feed) from .48 and .49 for 0 and 33%, respectively, to .42 and .38 pounds of gain per pound of feed for 67 and 100% peas, respectively.

Field peas used in this trial were dry rolled. However, during a 3 day period we fed whole peas and observed largly intact peas passing through the calves. Based on this observation, we strongly suggesting rolling or coarse grinding peas. Finely ground peas have smaller particles which can deter intake and lead to some digestive disturbance or bloat conditions.

Feed costs per pound of gain were calculated at $.063, .067, .083, and .103 for increasing pea levels of 0, 33, 67, and 100%. The cost of rolling peas is assumed to be included in the $2.20 per bushel price. Even though feed costs per pound escalated with peas at $2.20 per bushel and midds at $60/ton, the returns per head improved based on more pounds of calf to sell. The added value per calf from additional weight gain increased faster than the feed cost at higher pea levels (Table 2). Based on these data, peas included at 33% of the creep diet may be purchased for up to $4.60 per bushel for equivalent returns to the 100% midds ration, $6.81 is the maximum for the 67% diet and due to deteriorating feed efficiency, $3.02 is the maximum for peas at the 100% pea diet. When calves sell for $90/cwt, peas added to creep rations at 33, 67, and 100% respectively will produce added profit when purchased at less than $5.20, 8.06, and 3.38 /bushel.

Table 2. Performance of nursing calves fed creep feed formulated with wheat midds and field peas.

                                                                              - - - - - - - - - - Treatments - - - - - - - - - - -                     
Wheat Midds                                                              100%         67%         33%         0%                      
Field Peas 0% 33% 67% 100%         StErr
No. cow/calf pairs 31 32 32 33
No. replicates(pens)/tmt 4 4 4 4
Initial calf wt,lb 361 353 362 358 11.37
Final calf wt. lb 519 527 540 535 13.35
Feed intake, lb per head per day                                                                                                                        
Period 1                                                                        4.84          4.99           5.91       6.11           .31    
Period 2 6.93a 7.85b 9.32bc 11.44c .42
Overall avg. 5.89a 6.43ab 7.63bc 8.72c .43
Average daily gain, lb
Period 1                                                                        2.87          3.21           3.35       3.26           .20    
Period 2 2.77 3.01 2.99 3.10 .21
Overall avg. 2.82a 3.11b 3.17b 3.17b .14
Period 1                                                                        .59            .65             .57           .59             .03    
Period 2 .40a .39a .33ab .28b .03
Overall avg. .48a .49a .42ab .38b .03
Feed Cost/lb gaind  $                                                    .063         .067           .083        .103                   
Value of added gain above feed cost, $ per heade  $        -.-         9.66       10.83         6.99                    
Maximum price for peas ($/bu) with calves selling for:                                                                                          
$75.00/cwtf                                                                      -           4.60           6.81          3.02                 
$90.00/cwtf      -         5.20       8.06         3.38                
a,b,c,dValues with different superscripts are significantly different (P<.10)                                                               

eBased on wheat midds at $60/ton and peas at $2.20 per 60 lb bushel.

f No price slide is assumed for additional weight of weaned calves.

Field peas in North Dakota commonly trade from $1.75 to 3.25 per bushel depending on the season, export contract price, supply, and human food demand. As calf prices escalate, the break-even price of peas increases. With calves selling for $90/cwt., peas could be purchased for a maximum of $5.20, 8.06, and 3.38 for the 33, 67, and 100% pea diets, respectively.


This study indicates peas are a very palatable feed for creep fed calves, calves gain well on diets with peas, and the price of peas is highly favorable in terms of returns when compared with other possible creep feeds. Producers may realize increased profits over other feeds when peas are grown or procured at less than the calculated breakeven price and mixed in creep feeds for beef calves.

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