Creep Feeding: When and How to Make it Work.

Published on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 12:57pm

Creep Feeding: When and How to Make it Work.

 Article courtesy of Behlen Country.

 The National Weather Service is predicting a continuation of drought conditions for much of the western and southern parts of the US for the next few months.  Not the optimal grazing conditions many of us were hoping for and making us take a good long, hard look at the expenses in our programs.  One that comes under scrutiny during times like these is creep feeding.  We start to ask ourselves, “Does it really benefit my calves that much? Am I doing it right? Should I even be creep feeding at all?”  The short answer is that it depends.


The saying, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” really works when talking about creep feeding and the many ways to go about it. Essentially though, it boils down to three main systems:

• High energy, grain-based creep feeds
• Limit-fed, high protein creep feeds
• Creep grazing

High Energy Creep Feeds
High energy, grain-based creep feeds are the most widely used type of creep feed and tend to have a feed conversion rate of around 8:1. This means a calf will consume 8 lbs. of feed for every 1 lb. of gain. Feed conversion is used to determine cost of gain, which will help you determine if creep feeding is a viable option for your operation. Many factors affect feed efficiencies and cost of gain,  such as the amount of high-quality forage available. The more forage available, the less creep feed calves will consume. Because of these reasons, creep feeding is most effective in years of drought when forage is less readily available.

While the feed conversion rate of high-energy feeds may not be as efficient as other creep feeding systems, it is much less labor-intensive compared to different types of creep feed. Characteristically this type of feed is fed free-choice within a creep feeder that can hold one week’s worth of feed. These feeds are very palatable for calves and are usually grain-based.

High Protein Creep Feeds
High protein creep feeds are those that are more than 20% protein. The purpose of this type of feed is to increase forage digestibility and intake. Therefore, good quality forage must be readily available to optimize the effectiveness of this type of feeds. High protein creep feeds tend to have better conversion rates and feed efficiency but lower daily gains compared to free-choice, high-energy, grain-based creep feeds. Factor in that these types of feeds are usually limit-fed and therefore, more labor-intensive, and you can understand why they aren’t as popular as the high energy feeds fed free-choice.

Creep Grazing
The third way to creep feed calves is creep grazing. This is simply the act of giving exclusive access to separate areas of pasture to calves. Like grain-based creep feeds, creep grazing can produce more gains when compared to not creep feeding. The key to successful creep grazing is the quality of forage. No matter the type, the forage must be nutrient-dense. Like every creep feeding system, you must decide if creep grazing is an economically viable option for your program.

So you’ve run the numbers and have decided that you will be implementing a creep feeding program for your calves. Now what? When and how do you go about introducing it to your calves? Like all things, that is dependent upon your operation, cattle producer, Tom Moxon, has some tips to get you started.

Tom and his wife, Carrie, run a 30 head cow-calf operation out of Eagle Point, Oregon, focusing on providing quality market animals. “We focus on marketing club calves, so for us creep feeding is essential to get a good condition on those calves and to help ease the stress of weaning.”  The bulk of Moxon’s calving is done in March, and they try to get their calves introduced to creep feed in May to early June. Like traditional creep feeders, Moxon creates a small pen using panels that allow the calves inside while keeping the cows out with a feed bunk within. He places the pen in the shade, near where the cows spend a significant amount of time, such as near water or mineral and salt blocks. He then provides soft bedding within the pen allowing calves a soft dry place to lie out of the mud. Moxon stresses that feeding a palatable feed, especially when first introduced, is key to getting those calves to come back for more. By feeding a ration daily, Moxon can get his calves trained to feed at a bunk and allows him to have eyes on his calves daily. A gate that can quickly be closed across the opening of the creep pen, allows him to easily sort off animals that may need additional care. “Our setup isn’t anything fancy, but it works well for us”, says Moxon.

Creep feeding setups can range from small pens within a larger lot or pasture like Moxon’s to more traditional feeders that keep free-choice creep feeds covered and allow only calves access. These types of feeders come in a variety of sizes with numerous options. “Before creating a pen or purchasing a feeder, you must decide if you will be offering creep feed free-choice or be feeding a ration daily,” says Behlen Country representative and cattle producer Eric McVey. “You must also know if you will be moving your feeder from pasture to pasture or keep it stationary, as well as the number head you will be feeding. Also, keep in mind the way you will be purchasing your creep feed.  Are you purchasing 50 lb. bags or having it delivered in bulk?” If new to creep feeding, McVey suggests talking with your local feed supplier for advice and recommendations on feed type and feeder setup for you area.