Creep Feeding Calves for Maximum Growth

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Creep feeding of beef calves can boost animal performance and can be crucial to fall-born calving operations. Creep feeding is merely supplementing nursing calves’ feed supply, without giving the cows access to it.

Once a calf is 3-4 months old, the cow can only supply about half of the nutrition needed to maximize growth. The other nutrition has to come from other sources. In fall-calving herds, that period of time usually occurs in January, February and March when very little forage is available.

Winter annuals such as wheat, rye and ryegrass are the best supplemental feed for calves but are not always available for creep grazing. Every operation is different, but creep feeding generally is profitable for fall-born calves.

Getting nursing calves to begin eating grain can sometimes be an arduous task. An easy way to get them started is to feed their mothers small amounts of feed for a few days prior to creep feeding the calves. The calves will watch mama, and eat with her, thus making the switch to the creep feeder easier.

Creep feeds do not have to be complex, but they should be economical and palatable. If the calves will not eat it, then you accomplish nothing. Wet molasses or dry distillers’ grains can help boost consumption. Crack or grind grains when possible or if only grain is being fed, roll it. Byproducts like soy hull pellets and corn gluten feed can also make a good creep ration.

There are many commercial creep feeds available, and sometimes these may be the best option, due to timesavings or lack of feed grinding equipment. To keep your calves growing during the winter months, try giving them a little extra feed; you will be rewarded on sale day.


Damon Pollard
Extension Agent