Animal Husbandry Mimeograph April, 1955
Series No. 55-4
CREEP FEEDING CALVES
J. F. Hentges, Jr.1
Creep feeding is the practice of giving nursing calves access to extra
feed. This is done by placing a trough or self-feeder inside an enclosure
which excludes the cows but permits the calves to enter through narrow openings.
The production of slaughter calves in Florida represents one of the
largest sources of income to cattlemen. Calf production will remain an im-
portant industry in Florida because two-thirds of the land area in the state
is classified as flatlands, much of which is cut-over or poorly stocked wood-
lands and poorly drained areas suitable only for commercial cattle operations.
A majority of the commercial cows in the state possess poor beef conformation;
therefore, it is necessary to sell their calves at an early age before their
faults in beef conformation become pronounced enough to penalize their market
grade. Furthermore, the supply of pasture forage is seasonal, resulting in
a scant feed supply during the winter months. These pasture conditions have
forced the sale of many calves at weaning time or at the end of the grazing
season, In view of these existent conditions, the question is often asked,
'Will creep feeding of calves pay?"
Creep feeding is a controversial subject because it has been proven to be
either profitable or unprofitable, depending upon the situation. In an attempt
to present an unbiased report on the value of creep feeding, a study was made
of publications and correspondence from 55 beef cattle specialists in the 48
states and Hawaii. Their observations have been summarized as follows:
1Hentges, Assistant Animal Husbandman, Agricultural Experiment Station.
Creep feeding may not pay -
1. When calves will be carried over the winter as stockers, feeders or
2. When calves will be grain fed in drylot for 100 days or longer.
3. When pasture conditions are good and dam's milk flow is adequate.
4. When selecting replacement heifers on the basis of their weaning
weights which reflect their dam's milking ability.
5. When the range area is too large, inaccessible by vehicle, and cows
with calves do not gather at the same watering place daily.
Creep feeding may pay -
1. When adverse conditions such as drought, overstocked pastures, or
insufficient feed prevent adequate milk flow by cows.
2. When extra weight and finish are desired on calves to be marketed as
slaughter calves off the cow or after a short-postweaning feed.
3. When developing maximum bloom, body depths and weight on purebred
sale bulls and heifers,
4. When homegrown or inexpensive feeds can be marketed profitably in
Major arguments against creep feeding are:
1. More effort should be put forth to produce good-milking, easy-
keeping cows and adequate pastures rather than covering up faulty
practices by creep feeding and indiscriminate use of nurse cows.
2. Milk production in cow herds may decrease when creep feeding is
practiced because the rancher will have lost his most valuable tool
for selecting replacement heifers from best producing cows that
is their weaning weight right off the teat without grain.
3. Extensive research has shown that non-creep fed calves were more
profitable when full fed in drylot. They made faster gains and
utilized their feed more efficiently than creep fed calves,
Feeders prefer thin thrifty feeder calves*
4. Research results reveal that it is difficult to distinguish creep
fed from non-creep fed heifers after wintering and grazing the
Major arguments in favor of creep feeding are:
1. Non-descript calves with poor conformation can be increased in grade
and taken to heavier weights for sale at weaning time as slaughter
calves, thereby returning the most profit as such calves may not
attract a feeder demand.
2. Buyers at purebred cattle sales and some feeder calf sales pay a
premium for fatter cattle.
3. Creep fed calves out of first calf heifers will weigh and grade
higher and may be weaned earlier.
4. Under adverse conditions, cows can be given relief and calves pushed
to marketable finish by creep feeding.
5. Creep fed calves shrink less at weaning time and know how to eat*
6. On ranches troubled with internal parasites, the creep-fed calves
may be better able to withstand parasite infestation.
Location of the creep:
Ideal locations are near shade, water, mineral boxes or wherever the cows
and calves congregate daily. The area must be accessible to vehicles.
Construction of the creep:
A self feeder with wide overhanging eaves and a capacity of several
hundred pounds of feed has proven most satisfactory as it assures access to
dry clean feed at all times. The fence or panels surrounding the self feeder
should be constructed of treated posts and lumber. The openings in the creep
fence should be 15" wide for the calves to walk through. Narrow openings keep
cows out of the creep enclosure better than low wide openings.
Starting calves on creep feed
Patience and time are required to get calves into a creep, Use of older,
previously fed calves as decoys is helpful. Palatable feeds like alfalfa
leaves, wheat bran, cracked corn and crushed oats are widely used. A continual
supply of clean, dry, fresh feed is essential for success. Creep feeding should
be started as soon as calves will eat grain, usually 3 to 6 weeks of age.
Suggested creep feed mixtures:
When calves are under four months of age and the cows milk is abundant,
the mixture may be equal parts crushed oats and cracked corn, After four
months of age, cottonseed meal or other high protein (36 41%) feeds should
replace 10% of the oats. Dried citrus pulp and ground snapped corn are bulky
feeds which may be used up to 40% of the mixture replacing oats for calves
over four months of age. Calves started on creep feed early may consume 500
to 700 pounds of feed per calf before weaning,
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