Effect of Creep Feed on Calf Milk Consumption and Future Reproductive Performance of Heifer Calves Back »

Written by Janet Van De Stroet under the direction and review of Julie Walker.

Creep feeding is practiced in the Midwest to increase weight at weaning time. Beef cattle producers make the production decision to creep or not creep feed for a variety of reasons. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages related to creep feeding.

Some advantages of creep feeding include:

  • Increased weaning weights
  • Getting calves adapted to dry feed
  • Decrease the amount of forage intake of calves

Disadvantages of creep feeding include:

  • Depending on feed conversions and the slide in calf prices as weights increase, the additional income heavier calves may not cover all the costs of creep feeding
  • Milk consumption by calves is not decreased
  • Replacement heifers fed creep can develop fat deposits in their udder, and produce less milk throughout their lifetime
  • For producers that feed their own calves or retain ownership, the weaning weight advantage might not persist through the finishing phase

The impact of creep feed on milk consumption and future milk production are often forgotten when making creeping decisions. It is important to understand the effects that creep feeding will have on cows and replacement heifers within the herd. Multiple studies support the fact that a calf’s first and foremost preferred nutrient supply is milk. Reed et al. (2006) at North Dakota State University reported no difference in milk consumption between calves fed creep feed and those that were not (Table 1). However, creep fed calves had higher total organic matter intake, which was proportional to the amount of creep, feed consumed. These results show that creep feeding will not reduce the nutritional demands of lactation.

Table 1. Effects of creep feeding on forage and milk consumption.

  Control Creep June July August
OM intake, lb./d          
Creep 0.00 1.58 0.68 0.77 0.92
Forage 5.72 5.39 5.43 4.77 6.47
Milk 1.01 0.97 1.30 0.84 0.84
Total 6.62 7.74 7.37 6.23 7.99
OM = organic matter; Adapted from Reed et al. (2006);

Reed et al. (2006) also demonstrated that the calves forage intake (% of body weight) was higher when creep was not fed in the diet. However, Loy et al. (2002) showed no decrease in forage consumption when creep feed was available. The difference could be related to forage and creep feed quality. Calves will always choose milk first then either high-quality forage or creep depending upon what is available. The expected consumption of milk in calves is shown in Table 2 with the highest in June and decreasing through August. As milk consumption decreases throughout the months, forage consumption and creep (if available) increases as expected).

Research conducted at the University of Illinois reported an impact on future milk production from heifer calves that were supplemented with creep feed. Their results show that replacement heifers fed creep as calves had lower milk production during their first lactation (Table 2).

Table 2. Protein concentration in creep feed and its effect on the subsequent lactation of heifer calves.

  No Creep 14% Creep 18% Creep
Milk production, lb./d      
52 d postpartum 20.61 16.02 18.08
108 d postpartum 14.37 11.75 13.49
164 d postpartum 11.00 8.98 8.40
Adapted from Sexten et al. (2004)

Despite milk production differences in heifers, no difference in calf performance was seen between treatments of creep and non-creep fed calves.

Martin et al. (1981) followed heifer calves that were creep fed (n = 100) and not (n = 110) as calves. In addition to supporting the findings that creep feeding hinders milk production, they determined that creep feeding could have an effect on lifetime production of heifers. The data demonstrated that the number of calves weaned (6.04 and 6.38 calves weaned per cow for creep and non-creep cows, respectively) and weaning weights were lower for cows that were creep fed as heifers vs those that were not (2,519 vs. 2,715 pounds of lifetime calf weight).

Many factors should be taken into consideration when making the production decision whether or not to creep feed beef calves. It is important to understand that creep feeding calves does not reduce lactation stress on cows because the calf will consume the same amount of milk. However, if forage quantity is limiting, creep feeding can reduce the calves’ forage intake, which would in turn leave more for the cow. Caution should be used taken when feeding creep to replacement heifers as data shows a decrease in milk production and possible overall calving performance in heifers supplemented with creep as calves.


  • Reed, J. J., A. L. Gelvin, G. P. Lardy, M. L. Bauer, and J. S. Caton. 2006. Effect of Creep Feed Supplementation and Season on Intake, Microbial Protein Synthesis and Efficiency, Ruminal Fermentation, Digestion, and Performance in Nursing Calves Grazing Native Range in Southeastern North Dakota. J. Anim. Sci. 84:411–423.
  • Sexten, W. J., D. B. Faulkner, and F. A. Ireland. 2004. Influence of Creep Feeding and Protein Level on Growth and Maternal Performance of Replacement Beef Heifers. The Professional Animal Scientist 20:211–217.
  • Martin, T. G., R. P. Lemenager, G. Srinivasan, and R. Alenda. 1981. Creep Feed as a Factor Influencing Performance of Cows and Calves. J. of Anim. Sci. 53:33-38.
  • Loy, T.W., G. P. Lardy, M. L. Bauer, W. D. Slanger, and J.S. Caton. 2002. Effects of Supplementation on Intake and Growth of Nursing Calves Grazing native Range in Southeastern North Dakota. J. Amim. Sci. 80:2717-2725
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