Creep Feeding Calves


Creep feeding beef calves can improve animal performance especially in fall-born calves. Creep feeding is simply supplementing nursing calves feed supply without the cows also having access to it.


After a calf is 90 to 120 days old, the cow’s milk can only supply about half of the nutrients needed to maximize growth. The other nutrients have to come from elsewhere. In fall-calving herds, that period of time usually occurs in January, February and March when very little pasture is usually available.


High-quality pasture-like winter annuals such as wheat, rye and ryegrass are the best supplemental feed for calves but is not always available for creep grazing.  An alternative would be creep grazing residual growth from an adjacent hayfield.  


There’s no question that creep feeding grain can increase growth of fall born calves, but can we increase growth with profit?  Each situation is unique but if cost of gain is managed properly, then the answer can be yes.  Creep feeding will typically increase performance by 0.1 to 0.5 lb. increase in daily gain.  As a rule of thumb, it takes about 10 lbs. of creep feed to result in 1 pound in increased gain.  However, results can be highly variable.   



Getting calves to begin eating creep fed grain can sometimes be difficult. One way to aid in the process is to feed their mothers small amounts of ground feed for a few days prior to beginning to creep feed. The calves will learn to eat with their mothers and can soon be switched to the creep feeder.


Creep rations do not have to be complex, but they should be economical and palatable. If the animal will not eat it, then the ration is worthless. Wet molasses or dry distillers’ grains can be used to enhance consumption. It is best to crack or grind grains when possible or if only grain is being fed, to roll it. Byproduct feeds like soyhulls and corn gluten feed can also be used.  There are also commercial creep feeds available and some producers may find that purchasing these feeds is the best method for their operation.


For more information, contact the Adair County Cooperative Extension Service.

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