Creep feeding for beef calves—Know your numbers

Beef cow-calf producers should calculate the economic return for creep feeding calves each year.

Providing the nursing calf with supplemental feed takes some pressure off of the cow and can boost calf weaning weights. Data suggests that creep feeding calves 45+ days can increase calf weights by 30-50 lbs. (range 0-125 lbs.) and cow weights by 30-50 lbs. (range 0-200 lbs.) at the time of normal weaning. The response to creep feeding is dependent on forage quality, forage availability, and location of the creep feeder. In years where forage quality and/or quantity are limited, the response to creep feeding is higher than when forage quality and quantity are high. Areas of Michigan experiencing drought and/or poor pasture conditions should push the pencil. Calculations will need to be made to determine the feasibility of creep feeding for individual operations based on feed cost, performance and feeder prices.

Data suggests feed conversion varies a lot for calves fed high-energy creep feeds. After removing the highs and lows for feed conversions for the high-energy creep, feed-to-gain is about 8:1 (range: 15:1 to 6.8:1), meaning 8 lbs. of creep feed on a dry-matter basis per pound of gain by the calf. ADG for calves fed a high-energy creep feed is between 0.20 lb. and 0.30 lb. greater compared to calves that are not creep fed. Use caution as excessive creep gains can cause excessive udder fat deposition resulting in reduced lifetime milk production for replacement heifers.

Location of the creep feeder can impact calf use and feed intake. Locate feeders where cows congregate such as near water, mineral feeder, and shade. Sample creep rations (Table 1; 15% CP on a dry matter basis) have been created that should support gains of at least 2 lbs./d. Rumensin should be added to these creep rations to stabilize intake, minimize coccidiosis, and improve feed efficiency. Calves should be vaccinated for over-eating disease (clostridia type C&D toxoid). Once creep feeding is started, make sure creep feeders do not run empty. This can cause over eating, digestive upsets, acidosis, and founder when feed is reintroduced. Be sure to start calves on a high fiber creep diets to insure 10-14 days for rumen adjustment time.

For additional cattle management resources, visit the MSU Beef Team website at

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