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Does Creep Feeding Calves in Pasture Pay?

By   /  May 28, 2018  /  Comments Off on Does Creep Feeding Calves in Pasture Pay?

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This article is drawn from information provided by the University of Nebraska Lincoln Beef, Randy Saner, Nebraska Extension Educator – Beef Systems, and Travis Mulliniks, UNL Beef Cattle Nutritionist – Range Production Systems. Thanks for your great work!

Creep feeding is a practice of providing feed so that calves can get to it, but the cows can’t. It’s a practice that some producers have used to put additional weigh on calves before weaning.

Upsides and Downsides of Creep Feeding

In severe drought conditions, creep feeding can be used to offset declining forage quality and quantity. However, creep feeding will not replace or decrease the calf’s milk intake. Thus, creep feeding calves in drought conditions does not result in lowered nutrient requirements for the dam and may exacerbate the loss of forage due to drought on the cowherd.

Another concern with creep feeding is the long-term impacts on creep-fed heifer calves. The increased rate of gain from creep feeding in heifers can cause over-development of the udder or fatty udders, resulting in lowered lifetime milk production of replacements going into the cowherd. In a long-term study conducted at Purdue University, cows that were creep-fed as heifers weaned less pounds of calf during their lifetime production.

There are data suggesting that creep feeding has a positive effect on carcass quality. The effect of creep feeding on carcass quality is influenced by the length of the creep feeding period and type of creep feed fed. Creep feeding can also be used to introduce calves to feed they will be fed at weaning time which can smooth the transition to the new ration.

The Economics

As you might imagine, creep feeding to add additional weigh to calves could be economical when feed costs are low and the price of weaned calves is high. That means that before you get started, you need to think about:

• Cost of the creep feed
• Efficiency of utilization of the creep feed – a typical rate is 1 pound of gain to 6 pounds of creep feed, with an increase in Average Daily Gain of .3 pounds (ranging between .15 to .65 pounds ADG)
• Potential sale price for steers
• Difference in price due to increased weight of the calves
• Pasture conditions

Here’s an example of a creep feeder set up.

To give producers an idea about weight gains and costs, UNL researchers ran a 3-year study at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Ag Lab with 120 crossbred Red Angus/Simmental calves. Half were given creep feed, and half were not. (You can read more experiment details here.)

The creep feed calves gained 44 more pounds than those that didn’t get feed. They ate about 4.44 pounds of feed each per day at a costs of $64.80 per calf. According to Saner and Mullniks, “Due to the increased weaning weights and without considering costs, creep feeding resulted in an increase of $52.36 per calf in added value more than the non-creep fed calves.” But when feed costs were factored in, the extra weight did not cover the costs.

Calculate the Value of Added Gain

The best way to know if creep feeding is an economical solution is to figure the cost of the added gain. Here’s how to do that from UNL Beef:

Following is how to calculate value of the added gain.

As the weight of beef calves increases, their value on a $/pound or $/cwt basis decreases. In other words, the price per pound for calves that weigh 500 pounds is less than for calves that weigh 400 pounds. This is important to understand because the added calf weight from creep feeding cannot be priced at market value.

As an example, if 500-pound calves sell for a calf price of $2.80/lb and 560-pound calves sell for $2.70/lb the value of the added 60 pounds is $1.86/lb.

  1. 500 lb x $2.80/lb = $1,400
  2. 560 lb x $2.70/lb = $1,512
  3. $1,512 – $1,400 divided by 60 lb (which is the weight difference) = $1.86 per pound

If the calves gain 60 extra pounds when they are creep fed and it takes 6 pounds of creep to produce a pound of calf gain, it would take 360 pound of creep feed (60 lb of gain x 6 = 360 lb).

If the cost of the creep feed is $300 per ton ($0.15/lb), the cost of feed to put on the 60 pounds of weight is $54 (360 pounds of creep feed x $0.15 = $54). The dollars generated from the 60 pounds due to creep feed is $111.60 (60 lb of calf gain due to creep x $1.86 value of added gain = $111.60).

The return to creep feeding is + $57.60 ($111.60 – $54 = $57.60). The return from creep feeding in this example includes only feed and no labor and equipment.


Do the calculations with your numbers. Remember, when determining costs for creep feeding, include not only feed costs, but equipment (creep feeder, tractor, and wagon with an auger to fill the feeder if not done by the creep supplier), and labor costs.

Want Even More On This Topic?

NebGuide G2077 “Creep Feeding Beef Calves” can give you all the ins and outs. It includes examples of what a good creep feed includes, how to design and locate a creep feeder, how to get calves started on creep feed, and more.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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