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Creep feeding: Do I really need to?

Heidi Doering-Resch for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 June 2019

It’s late summer, we’ve experienced a wet spring and moderate rainfall in the summer, grass finally seems to be adequate, and we have plenty of pasture space available for our pairs. I’ll be taking my pairs to stalks late fall based on how this weather pattern looks, and I’m sitting horseback wondering if I really need to creep feed this year.

Sounds like about every cattleman I know during mid- to late summer when the weather scenario has finally cooperated for once. However, this second scenario seems to be all too common as well.

It’s late summer, we’ve missed nearly every rain event that seems to drop a little bit of moisture, and I’m running low on ample grass and contemplating needing to sell off some pairs to keep pastures adequately stocked or weaning early. We will be hitting silage chopping earlier due to not getting the amount of moisture, so I’ll have the ability to move pairs earlier if I have the labor to help, and enough forage to background my calves if I need to wean early. I’m sitting horseback and wondering if I should creep feed this year, or if I should just early wean, move the pairs earlier or do a combination of all.

There doesn’t seem to be a standard when it comes to creep-feeding opportunities. Economics reign supreme when the decision to have the self-feeders filled or not is made. Taking into consideration certain key points will help you relax and make that “to fill or not to fill” decision so you can get back to enjoying your time horseback checking pairs.

Putting it simply, when looking at whether to creep, I look at the benefits versus the disadvantages, my operation’s goals and current situation, and ultimately make my decision based on economics.

What are the benefits vs. the negatives of creep feeding?


1. Improves weaning weights and rate of gain (0.2 to 0.3 pound per head per day versus non-creep-fed calves) during grazing season

2. Fills the gap between milk and forage needs for the calf (does not reduce nutritional demands on the milking dam, however)

a. Helps calves whose dams don’t milk as efficiently as it helps bridge the calf’s nutritional gap

b. Dams who don’t milk well will still have calves who try to draw as much off them as possible.

3. Allows first-calf heifer calves the ability to supplement themselves and improve their growth curve

4. Can improve calf uniformity

5. Helps bunk break calves for actual weaning time, taking stress off calves learning to eat from 
a bunk

6. Aids in parasite control, which improves calf health and growth

7. Provides market flexibility

8. Can enhance marbling of cattle for feedout phase when sold directly to the finishing feedlot

9. Calves who are creep fed recover shipping shrink quicker than their non-creep-fed penmates at the feedyard.

10. Can be used to help supplement calves in a drylot situation or when feed sources are limited


1. It costs money to creep feed and may not always be economical pending current calf price and cost per ton of creep feed.

a. Run your pencil before committing to creep feeding; then, if positive, take advantage of early creep booking if available in your area.

b. Must include cost of equipment, delivery per ton and labor when figuring cost per ton of creep feed

2. Can impact future milking ability of heifers who get too fleshy on creep as well as breeding longevity

a. Are you retaining your heifers for breeding or selling them as breeding replacements?

3. May lower feedlot feed conversion and average daily gain (ADG) if calves are too fleshy

4. Can impact weight as fleshy, low- to moderate-framed calves will finish out quicker in the feedlot

5. Many weight benefits are lost if calves are to go straight to a background-type facility versus finishing lot.

6. Feed conversion can vary, with high-energy creeps ranging from 6.8-to-1 to over 15-to-1.

7. Difficult to do in remote areas

8. Requires equipment and labor

9. Type of creep can cause differing results; they are not all created equal.

a. High-protein creep versus high-energy creep feeds all have varying feed conversion ratios.

Ultimately, taking into consideration the pros and cons of creep feeding and your operation’s goals, you need to run your pencil. Table 1 utilizes creep-feed cost and considerations originally taken from the University of Nebraska Extension Service when figuring return or loss per calf.

Creep feeding return or loss per head

These calculations take into consideration creep-feed conversion, selling price of the calf and cost of creep feeding calves. Utilizing current calf market prices and current price per ton, delivered, of creep feed, one can easily see if filling the creep feeders is economically feasible, taking all other environmental, health, operational goals and selling guidelines into consideration (Table 1).

So to answer the two questions from above, we all want to be in the situation of the first producer. If this were my case, and I had the resources and the feedstuffs, I would continue to allow my pairs to run on pasture without losing much sleep over if I need to creep or not. I have ample feedstuffs to supply the cow enough nutrients to feed the calf at side, and I am going to move the calves directly upon weaning to a grow yard where I can sort off my replacement heifers and potential bulls. If I were in the position of the second producer, most likely I would be creep feeding, should the economics be positive, and then decide to early wean if I have the space and resources to do so, cutting down on the demands of my pasture and on my cows.

It’s a great time to be looking at creep-feed booking opportunities. Once again, knowing your operation’s goals, both performance and economic, can help you make the decision whether to book your creep now or if this year, you can take a break from checking creep feeders and focus your time horseback enjoying the scenery of healthy pairs.  end mark

Heidi Doering-Resch
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