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Consider creep feeding

published: March 26th 2019
by: Grady Ruble
source: Igrow

Despite what Mother Nature seems to think the summer months are approaching and for some that means rolling out the creep feeder and for others considering whether creep feeding is a necessary investment. In general creep feeding is a management practice used when market and/or environmental conditions render it necessary. Factors affecting the necessity to creep feed are calf prices, feed prices, seed stock bull production, drought conditions, dry-lot systems or fall born calves. Though it may seem obvious, before placing an order for creep feed one must consider the economic viability of creep feeding.

Economic Viability

To determine the value of additional gain, one must consider the fact that the value of each additional pound of gain decreases as calf weight increases. Understanding this concept is impactful since it will help prevent producers from making a decision that is not economical. For example, if a 530 lb. calf sells for $1.80/lb. and a 580 lb. calf sells for $1.70/lb. the value of the additional gain is actually less than the price received per pound. In that, since the 530 lb. calf sold for $950 and the 580 lb. calf sold for $986 the difference is $36/head, which when divided by a weight difference of 50 lb. arrives at a value of $0.72/lb. for each additional pound of gain.

The next step is to determine whether the cost of gain is below the value of said gain. Cost of gain will be impacted by the creep feeding system chosen and its associated feed conversion efficiency. A concentrate-based mix offered free choice is a common approach to creep feeding and depending on forage quality one can expect a variety of feed conversions. According to Gadberry et al. (2012), when calves are offered unlimited corn and soy hull based creep feed when grazing high, moderate and low quality forages the resulting feed conversions were 4.4:1, 8.4:1 and 12.5:1 pounds of creep to a pound of gain respectively. Table 1 below demonstrates the cost of gain at various feed conversions and feed costs.


Feed conversion ab
Creep feed cost, $/ton 4.4 8.4 12.5
Feed cost of gain, $
180 0.40 0.76 1.13
190 0.42 0.80 1.19
200 0.44 0.84 1.25
210 0.46 0.88 1.31
220 0.48 0.92 1.38
230 0.51 0.97 1.44
240 0.53 1.01 1.50


a Feed conversions adapted from (Gadberry et al., 2012)

b Pounds of creep feed per pound of gain.

Possible Benefits

Benefits associated with creep feeding can also be seen in post weaning calf performance and carcass traits. Creep feeding has been shown to familiarize calves with dry feeds, making the post-weaning transition less stressful resulting in increased intakes (Faulkner et al., 1994). Furthermore, creep feeding may also provide a positive benefit in regard to carcass quality. Research from Bruns et al. (2004), has shown the development of marbling begins at an early stage of life, which is particularly beneficial for those who retain ownership of calves and wish to improve carcass quality of fed cattle.

Creep feeding in drought conditions will help provide the nutrition necessary to sustain calf growth. There is conflicting data in regard to the effect of creep feeding on forage intake. The thought is creep feeding will decrease forage intake by the calf, thus decreasing grazing pressure, this is supported by data from (Cremin Jr et al., 1991; Faulkner et al., 1994). In contrast (Loy et al., 2002; Gelvin et al., 2004), reported no difference in forage consumption by calves fed creep feed. If facilities allow, early-weaning is also a viable alternative if the goal is to decrease cow nutrient requirements or decrease grazing pressure. However, to avoid price discounts care must be taken to ensure calves do not become too fleshy.

Other conditions that may warrant creep feeding can be found in fall calving herds, particularly in the northern plains. This time frame coincides with a season where forage quality it rapidly declining to the point where the available nutrition is not adequate to support adequate lactation or calf growth. That in combination with ever declining temperatures makes supplementation for both the cow and calf beneficial.

The Bottom Line

Creep feeding is an excellent tool when additional weight at weaning is beneficial. Times to consider creep feeding are when conditions do not allow calves to express their genetic potential, feed prices and market conditions are favorable, or if it is part of your business model. Ultimately, creep feed should only be offered when the value of gain is greater than the cost of gain. Remember, true cost of gain includes more than just feed cost, labor and creep feeders still come with a price tag.


  • Bruns, K. W., R. H. Pritchard, and D. L. Boggs. 2004. The relationships among body weight, body composition, and intramuscular fat content in steers. J. Anim. Sci. 82(5):1315-1322.
  • Cremin Jr, J. D., D. B. Faulkner, N. R. Merchen, G. C. Fahey Jr, R. L. Fernando, and C. L. Willms. 1991. Digestion criteria in nursing beef calves supplemented with limited levels of protein and energy. J. Anim. Sci. 69(3):1322-1331.
  • Faulkner, D. B., D. F. Hummel, D. D. Buskirk, L. L. Berger, D. F. Parrett, and G. F. Cmarik. 1994. Performance and nutrient metabolism by nursing calves supplemented with limited or unlimited corn or soyhulls. J. Anim. Sci. 72(2):470-477.
  • Gadberry, M. S., P. A. Beck, S. A. Gunter, B. L. Barham, W. A. Whitworth, and J. K. Apple. 2012. Effect of corn-and soybean hull-based creep feed and backgrounding diets on lifelong performance and carcass traits of calves from pasture and rangeland conditions. Prof. Anim. Sci 28(5):507-518.
  • Gelvin, A. A., G. P. Lardy, S. A. Soto-Navarro, D. G. Landblom, and J. S. Caton. 2004. Effect of field pea-based creep feed on intake, digestibility, ruminal fermentation, and performance by nursing calves grazing native range in western North Dakota. J. Anim. Sci. 82(12):3589-3599.
  • Loy, T. W., G. P. Lardy, M. L. Bauer, W. D. Slanger, and J. S. Caton. 2002. Effects of supplementation on intake and growth of nursing calves grazing native range in southeastern North Dakota. J. Anim. Sci. 80(10):2717-2725.

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