June 2015

photo of cow-calf pair in pastureThe primary objective of the management practice of creep feeding is to put additional weight on the calves economically before weaning without making the calves fleshy. Fleshy calves are usually discounted in market price.

To creep or not to creep is an economic decision to increase profit potential for the cow/calf enterprise. Situations where creep feeding appears to be economical is when feed costs are low and market price of calves at weaning is high. An important component to determining whether creep feeding is economical is to determine the value of the added gain.

Creep feeding: weight gain and carcass quality

The most common creep feed is high in energy and about 16% crude protein. Data would suggest that high energy creeps will result in the greatest weight gain. Calves will

  • eat about 3.2 pounds per head daily (range 2 to 6.5 lb/hd/day – depends on length of the creep feeding period),
  • have a gain to feed ratio of 1 pound of gain to 6 pounds of creep (range - 1:4 to 1:10), and
  • increase ADG of 0.3 pounds (range - 0.15 to 0.65 pound increase in ADG) compared to non-creep fed calves.

Creep feeding does not reduce lactation pressure of the dam like one might expect. In addition, 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.

Calculate value of added gain

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.

Additional Resource

Rick Rasby
Beef Specialist
University of Nebraska