Is Creep Feeding Right for Your Cattle Operation

“The key to using a calf creep feeding program is make sure that it is profitable,” says Patrick Davis MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist.  Davis will discuss considerations when determining if calf creep feeding is right for your cattle operation.

“Calf cost of gain during the creep feeding program is an important component in determining whether the strategy is profitable,” says Davis.  According to the University of Georgia, in most years a creep feeding program needs to cost less than $0.50 to $0.60 per pound of added calf gain in order to be profitable.  Davis urges cattle producers to evaluate various creep feeding strategies from a cost standpoint to determine profitability prior to implementation.

“Forage quality and availability will determine calf performance improvement due to creep feeding,” says Davis.  If forage is abundant and high quality, calf performance response due to creep feeding will be less since plenty of high-quality forage is available for consumption.  Davis urges utilization of creep feeding during times of limited forage quality and availability, such as during a drought, for best calf response.

“Creep feeding helps improve calf performance of poor milking cows,” says Davis.  Calves of poor milking cows consume more creep feed improving their performance.  However, poor milking cows should be removed from the herd to improve herd efficiency and productivity.  Davis urges calf weights be taken prior to creep feeding to use in identifying poor milking cows to cull from the herd.

“Creep feeding shows benefit if calf ownership is retained to slaughter,” says Davis.  Data shows creep feeding positively influences calf marbling, carcass quality and carcass weight.  Data shows carcasses from creep fed calves are marketed at essentially the same price as non-creep fed calves, but they require fewer days on feed to reach harvest weight.  At weaning, creep fed calves typically sell for less than non-creep fed calves, so Davis urges producers to retain ownership of creep fed calves through finishing to capture the market benefits of creep feeding.

“If calves are sold at weaning make sure they are not too fleshy due to creep feeding because that will reduce sale price,” says Davis.

Creep grazing is an alternative to creep feeding where calves graze high quality pasture instead of being fed a grain-based supplement.  Grazing high quality pasture reduces the likelihood of excess flesh which can result in discounts if calves are sold at weaning.  Also, creep grazing is a good tool to add gain to potential replacement heifers without excess flesh that will negatively impact future milk production.  Davis urges producers to consider creep grazing for calves sold at weaning or retained as replacement heifers because of the added weight gain without excess flesh.

“Profitability and desired endpoint of the calves should always be considered when implementing creep feed or grazing,” says Davis.  If you have further questions or need more information please contact your local MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist.