Providing supplemental feed to your calves while they're still nursing may provide you with the opportunity to increase calf gains and profits. But before providing creep feed it's important that you consider the costs and the potential benefits. Generally spring-born calves nursing their dams do not require any supplementation until mid to late summer when forage quality and the cow's milk production starts to decline.

* If high quality summer grazing is present, creep feed is not warranted at all. Creep feeding has been the most effective in drought situations or whenever quantity or the quality of pasture does not meet the calf's requirement for growth.

* In addition to forage quality, supplemental feed cost must be considered. It makes little sense to spend more than the market price to produce additional weight gain.

* Implementing creep feed for the first time may negatively affect genetic decisions. For example if culling and selection are based on weaning weight, creep feeding invalidates this method of selection. Calves of poor-milking cows eat more feed to make up for what they have not received from the cow.

* While supplementation of heifer calves helps those potential herd replacements reach breeding weight at an earlier age, it may also lead to lower milk production.

* If you're considering retaining calves for winter stocker programs, avoid over feeding. If calves are heavily fed and fat at weaning, it could diminish their expected performance through the winter.