What Is Creep Feeding? Creep Feed Vs Creep Feeding Explained

Creep feeding is the practice of providing supplemental nutrition to nursing ruminant animals – most often cattle, sheep, and goats do well with creep feeding – with a goal of accelerating weight gain and rumen development for larger animals that can rely on freely available forage, plus a healthier herd.


  • Creep feeding is the process of using a specialized animal feeder – usually with the ability to adjust the size of animals that can access the feeder,  plus the amount of food they can access at one time – to help ruminant herds develop faster and stronger.
  • Creep feed is the term for the mix or type of feed that goes into a creep feeder. Creep feed is often high in protein and supplements that aid in the animals’ rumen development. A fully developed rumen means that ruminants are able to move from the mother’s milk to the free and/or low-cost grass and forage widely available on many farms.
  • The goal of creep feeding and creep feed is to achieve a higher weaning weight (the weight at which an animal is weaned and can be sold), move livestock to normal pasture grazing faster, allow  mothers to recover body condition and ultimately breed back quicker with better conception rates, and to create a healthier herd overall.

Understanding The Creep Feeder

Creep feeders (almost always metal creep feeders similar to the traditional cattle feeders you’ve known for years) are usually 6-12 feet in length, 5-6 feet high and 4-6 feet wide to accommodate a large internal feed capacity.

They generally work with one to three adjustable mechanisms that limit which animals can eat at the feeder, and how much they can eat:

  1. A creep feed gate that is attached to the feeder and works by restricting the height or width of animals that can even reach the creep feed opening.
  2. At the creep feed opening, another adjustable opening for the animals’ head, again restricting access to the creep feed to smaller animals.
  3. An adjustable “lick” feeder mechanism, whereby ruminants must use their tongue to access the feed. This lick feeding system helps by providing supplemental feed but by restricting their intake via the saliva lick principle (the saliva lick feeder system will be described more below).

Our specialized saliva lick feeders are recognized as one of the best ways to approach a creep feeding program, adding a lick-restrictive mechanism that helps animals limit creep feed consumed to an appropriate amount, leading to healthier animals (no overeating) and lower feed costs.

With Universal Feeders, our calf creep feeder is the same as our goat and sheep feeders – just with some important adjustments to the limiting mechanisms as well as feeder height adjustment  capabilities.

What Is a Saliva Lick Feeder?

We take a slightly unique approach to creep feeding by enhancing the typical creep feeder approach (which limits access to the creep feeder based on animal size) with a saliva-reliant mechanism to optimize creep feed intake.

The saliva lick feeding system of Universal Feeders requires livestock to utilize saliva to draw feed out from between two plates, which Universal Feeders calls adjusters. The upper adjuster controls the depth of the grain while the lower adjuster controls the width of the grain available for consumption. As the livestocks’ tongue goes into the groove, the feed that sticks to the tongue is the ration they can consume. The saliva decreases with progressive licks until the animal is unable to obtain any more feed.  Livestock will leave the feeder once they are unable to obtain more feed, enabling other animals to have their turn

As the animal eats and becomes full, saliva production decreases, preventing more feed from sticking to the tongue. The animal naturally moves away to graze. 

Spreading the animals’ ration out over the day in many small feedings aids in feed efficiency and better rumen development which in turn enhances forage utilization.

The animal can only receive creep feed when it has sufficient saliva to get the feed to stick to its tongue – for improved feed efficiency and lower feed cost. Over the last two decades of experimenting with creep feeding and creep feeder designs, we feel that Universal Feeders has perfected feeding strategies for ruminant farmers.

Ready To Learn More About Creep Feeders For Your Herd?

Lost Creek Wholesale is the exclusive provider of Universal Feeders’ creep feeders in the U.S. Pioneered in Australia over many years of research and experimenting, our feeders are time-tested and herd-approved.

Call today to learn more and find out how a creep feeder could benefit your farm and profitability.

Creep feed can be found commercially or mixed to custom requirements right on the farm.

What Kind of Creep Feeds Are Available Or Most Commonly Used?

This can include grain, protein supplements, commercial ruminant creeps, or high-quality forage from your own fields.

  • High Protein Creep Feeds
  • Whole Grain Based Creep Feed
  • Limit Fed Protein Supplements
  • Creep Feed Pellets

Our experienced team or a good herd nutritionist will be able to help you decide on the right creep feed starting point for your animals.

Providing Supplemental Feed: How Measured Creep Feeding Benefits Your Herd

The key benefits of creep feeding can be broken down into two categories:


Creep feeding prior to weaning provides additional protein, vitamins, and trace minerals that enhance growth, ruminant development, and immunity.

  • Higher creep feed and energy intake at an early age can increase marbling, body weight, and carcass quality grade.
  • Creep feeding helps prepare young rumens to start on forage more quickly in early weaning programs. Compared to non creep-fed calves or kids, for animals introduced to easily digested supplements early, in the form of a quality creep feed, research has proven that the cilia and microbes develop more quickly for proper rumen function. These animals then move to grazing and eating forage faster.
  • At weaning, feeders being used as creep feeders can serve as a nutrition base station that stock is already familiar with to reduce weaning stress and shrink.
  • Creep feeding can provide a way to add a  coccidiostat to the creep feed to aid in the control of coccidia which in return improves health and weight gain.


Utilizing creep feeding after weaning provides similar but additional benefits for creep feed calves, lambs, and kids.

  • Provides a more immediate transition to bunk feeding, which results in less weaning shrink.
  • Earlier feed intake reduces weaning stress, improves health, and faster post weaning weight gain.
  • Improving nutrition early, and better nutrient status, supports the immune system and vaccine response for creep-fed calves.
  • Heavier calves earlier can then be first to market in spring and summer seasons, saving feed and yardage costs while improving early revenue.

When used correctly, creep feeding can enhance the growth and health of calves, lambs, and kids, helping to offset the stress of weaning and ultimately improving the quality and value of the finished product.

Reasons to Consider Creep Feeding

  • Increased Weaning Weights: Creep feeding can add 30 to 60 pounds of weight to calves at weaning time. This is because they have access to a consistent and more nutrient-dense food source in addition to their mother’s milk, particularly after a cow’s milk yield peaks.
  • Supporting Early Maturation of the Rumen: Creep feeding helps to kick-start the rumen development process in calves, lambs, and kids, promoting early maturation and a faster transition to grazing on available forage. Rumen development requires proper microbiome balance and papillae. Introducing forage in small amounts, earlier, aids in this process.
  • Improved Transition to Feedlots: Creep fed ruminants are more accustomed to solid feed and can adapt more quickly to feedlot rations. This smoother transition can help reduce stress and health issues related to weaning.
  • Enhanced Milk Utilization and Nutrient Intake: Creep feeding is beneficial for herds with low milk production or high numbers of first-year animals. It supplements nutrients that may not be received in sufficient quantities from mother’s milk alone.
  • Improving Performance During Poor Forage Availability or Poor Quality Forages: Supplementing the animals’ diet with creep feed during periods of poor or insufficient forage (like early spring or late summer) ensures calves receive a balanced diet regardless of the quality or quantity of forage available.

Common Questions About Creep Feeders

What are the benefits of creep feeding calves?

Creep fed calves wean earlier and are ready for grazing or feedlots faster. Creep feeding also provides for higher weaning weight and means that mothers are ready for calving once again more quickly, or have more time to recover themselves.

Where do I put my creep feeder?

The location of the feeder should be somewhere frequented by the herd to ensure young animals are exposed to the feeder as-needed. With our saliva lick creep feeder, and proper calibration (we can help!), placement and settings are a breeze.

Are there situations where you should not creep feed?

Yes, there are situations where creep feeding may not make economic sense!

If calves have access to abundant high-quality forage, the benefits of creep feeding might not be as compelling. If the cost of your creep feed exceeds the return on weight gain – most common in beef cattle sold after weaning and based on weaning weight – it might not be economical to creep feed.

How much creep feed do I need per calf?

The amount of creep feed you need will vary based on the calf’s weight, age, and the quality of available forage. On average, a calf can consume 1 to 3 pounds of creep feed per 100 pounds of body weight daily.

How do I get my calf to eat from a creep feeder?

With a palatable creep feed, you probably won’t have any trouble getting your animals to eat creep feed. In fact, that’s why we love our saliva lick mechanism!

Should I use creep feeders or creep gates for calves?

Creep feeders usually use a creep gate to limit the animals that can access the feeder. Our Universal Feeders have the option for a creep gate to restrict animal access according to their size and also has a “Saliva Lick” feature that limits intake according to the animals’ needs.

What animals does creep feeding work with?

Creep feeding can be useful for nursing calves, goats, and sheep.

Does creep feeding calves pay for itself?

That’s the goal! With creep feeding, the goal is higher calf weights, faster moves to grazing, better rumen health, a healthier overall herd, faster wean times, and faster breed back, and ultimately an increased bottom line.

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