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When to Start Creep Feeding Calves?

Photo credit: Farm Advisory Service, Scotland.

The most efficient growth of any animal is when they are young. They are building bone, muscle, and other tissues needed to grow. Very little fat is developed. The digestive system of a calf can digest grain at 45 to 50 days of age. Calves are curious and will start picking grain. To encourage consumption, sprinkle some grain within the cage that surrounds the feeder. At first, they will eat very little but by the time the calves are 500 pounds, they could be eating 5 to 7 pounds of grain per day.


Small calves under 300 pounds should receive a creep feed that contains at least 16% protein. The additional energy provided by the grain must be matched with additional protein to continue the development of the skeleton and muscle. If they are offered a creep feed that is all oats or barley that has only 11 or 12% protein, the calves will not stretch and develop their frame properly. They will develop fat which makes them less appealing to buyers when they are sold in the fall.


With creep feed being offered, estimated calf growth rates can increase between 0.5 and 1.0 pounds per day. In drier areas where pasture grass is limiting, additional gains could be as high as 1.5 pounds a day. Over a 150 day period, I have observed calves to be 50 to 140 pounds heavier than calves that are not provided creep feed.


Creep feed consumption is variable. It could be anywhere from 600 to 1,200 pounds over the summer.  At an estimated cost of $600 per tonne, the cost incurred for the feed is $0.27 per pound or $163 to $326. 


With 700-pound steers currently being sold for approximately $3.85 per pound, is it economical?  At 50 pounds of additional gain, the calf is worth an additional $192. If it gains 100 pounds, the additional value is $385.


The values are estimates and each operation will have different feed requirements and results. This example illustrates some of the costs and returns to consider. Costs such as time, equipment for moving, and reloading the feeders are not calculated in this example and should be calculated.  The second consideration is the reduction in grass consumption by the calves which extends the grazing season.


For additional information on creep feed rations and the economics of creep feeding, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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