Department of Animal Science i-ARY lorida Agricultural
Research Report No. AL-1974-1 Experiment Station
SApril, 1974 ainesville, Florida
FEEDING SUCKLING AND EARLY WEANED BEEF CALVES
*- Univ. of rPo rid a
James F. Hentges-, -Jrx .L-
The practice of providing supplemental feed to suckling (nursing)
calves is termed "creep feeding" because calf feed is placed inside a
fenced enclosure with narrow openings which exclude cows but permit
calves to enter.
Creep feeding is a management tool which may or may not be profit-
able depending on a number of factors but especially on the relationship
of price of calves, price of feed and status of the ranch resources
(equipment, people, kind of cattle, condition of pastures, etc.). His-
torically, creep feeding popularity and profitability has fluctuated
with the economics of the times.
Several recent economic changes have caused ranchers to take a fresh
look at creep feeding. The relationship of feed prices and calf prices
have changed in recent years. Likewise, the kind of calves being mar-
keted has changed since the advent of crossbreeding. Emphasis now is on
continuous growth of steers from birth to slaughter, fast growth of
replacement heifer calves so they can be bred as yearlings, and increased
efficiency of the entire ranch operation as measured by pounds of beef
per cow bred or per acre of grazeable land. Obviously, each of these
changes has motivated the calf producer to pay closer attention to proper
nutrition and to question the profitability of creep feeding.
It would not be good judgment to recommend for or against creep
feeding as a general practice. Recommendations should be made on an
individual ranch basis and only after using pencil and paper to figure
out whether it has an opportunity to pay. Ultimately, the success of
creep feeding will be dependent not only on the quality and cost of
calves and feed but on the MAN who does the MANAGEMENT of the operation.
Keeping a constant supply of fresh feed available within easy walking
distance of every calf is a big job that must be done right.
The extensive published information available on creep feeding can
be summarized as follows:
CREEP FEEDING MAY NOT PAY:
1. When calves will not be kept on a continuous and high rate
of gain after weaning.
2. When high quality pasture forage is abundant and the cows
milk flow is adequate for calves to gain weight up to their
1/ Professor and Animal Nutritionist, Department of Animal Science.
3. When rangeland pasture areas are inaccessible by vehicle
and cows with calves do not gather daily at places where
creep feeders could be located.
4. When the differential in market price favors lightweight
calves for out-of-state shipment rather than heavy weaned
feeder or slaughter calves.
5. When calves do not have the genetic potential to do well
on feed or to be in demand at heavier weights and should
be sold as "vealers" or "roping calves".
6. When calves have a short-bodied, compact conformation and
are likely to become too fat by weaning time to be in
demand by feeder buyers, yet will not be heavy enough for
slaughter calf buyers.
CREEP FEEDING MAY PAY:
1. When adverse conditions such as drought, overstocked pastures,
inclement weather and insufficient feed temporarily cause
an inadequate milk flow by cows.
2. When it is learned that the breeding program has bred a
faster gaining potential into the calves but a lower milking
potential into the cow herd. Some of the so-called "exotic"
breeds have not proved to be good milk producers on average
Gulf Coast pastures but their calves have the genetic poten-
tial to grow rapidly to large mature weights. Profits from
such calves almost dictate continuous and high rates of gain
from birth to slaughter. Either creep feeding or early
weaning and placement on full feed can be practiced until
the pasture program and crossbreeding program are brought
into a better balance.
3. When developing own replacement heifer calves to be bred as
yearlings to calve as two-year-olds. To reach a recommended
weight of at least 750 pounds by breeding age (about 14 mo.),
a heifer should weigh at least 450 to 500 lb. at weaning and
gain at least 1 1/2 pounds per day from weaning to breeding.
The heifer that is heavier (not fat) at weaning time usually
reaches puberty earlier and breeds earlier in her first breed-
ing season; consequently, she has the opportunity to have an
earlier calf throughout her productive life. It may be
sufficient to creep feed for only a few weeks commencing
after official weights and grades are recorded for purposes
of a breeding program.
4. When calf buyers will pay a premium for calves that are getting
supplemental feed. Calves that know how to eat will shrink
less during penning, withstand shipping stress better and go
on to feed quicker at their destination. A total pre-
conditioning program including vaccination and health
aids as well as creep feed has been proved to reduce
calf stress and improve performance of calves hauled
long distances immediately after weaning.
5. When it is desired to relieve stress on first-calf,
two-year-old heifers so they will come into "heat"
sooner and so their calves will have a better oppor-
tunity to gain. The milk production of two-year-old
heifers is markedly below what they will produce as a
6. When fall and winter calving is practiced. The response
to creep feeding of calves is much larger when cows have
calved during periods of sparse, low quality pasture and
their milk flow is restricted by inadequate forage nu-
7. When bulls are left out year around and the ranch ob-
jective is to get as many light weight calves as possible
with a relatively low level of management of all ranch
resources. While this kind of operation cannot be
recommended, those in existence may occasionally find
it profitable to obtain a creep feed supply contract
which provides self-feeding creeps on a "keep-full"
basis. Daily checking of self-feeders is recommended
to keep the feed from "bridging up" in the feeder,
adjust the feeding boards, and remove moldy feed and
8. When it is desired to use a limited grain supply as
efficiently as possible for finishing own calves. The
energy required per pound of gain is much lower for
calves than yearlings varying from about 2.5 pounds of
TDN energy for 100-day-old calves to over 5.5 pounds at
a year of age.
Creep feeding should not be viewed as a substitute for good pasture
management or good milk production in the cow herd. It is one more man-
agement tool to be used when it affords an opportunity to return more
profit. For purposes of pasture production and cow production records,
calves can be weighed and graded after their dams have passed their peak
period of milk production. If pasture forage is adequate, this peak may
be reached by the 60th day of lactation but many producers may prefer to
delay creep feeding or early weaning until the calf crop averages 90 days
Patience and time may be required to get calves to use a creep feeder.
The use of previously creep-fed calves as decoys is helpful. Location of
the feeder near places where the cows loaf is essential. Calves may be
reluctant to go into an enclosure in a corner or place where they could
be trapped. A location in a shaded open area is best.
Creep feed can be as simple as whole heavy oats or rolled whole
shelled corn if the dam's milk is abundant and some high quality pasture
forage, like a clover-grass mixture, is available. Later, a complete
balanced creep feed mixture is recommended. The daily consumption of
creep feed varies widely depending on many factors but a guideline
might be to expect 400 to 600 pounds to be consumed per calf in a 100-
day period starting at about 4 months of age. The conversion of feed
to weight gain will depend on the calf, the feed and the manager, but
a guideline might be to expect 100 pounds of gain for each 400 to 600
pounds of creep feed.
Early weaning is usually not practiced unless it becomes a neces-
sity because of twin calves, orphan calves, inadequate pasture conditions
for mother cows or some reason to get the calves on a high plane of
nutrition as soon as possible. Creep feeding of beef calves has been
preferred to early weaning. Diets and facilities which have been widely
used for the commercial growing of early-weaned dairy calves are re-