Creep Grazing Questions Answered
One of the easiest ways to get started with creep grazing, according to Dr. John Jennings, is to use a temporary electric fence. “Set the single polywire high enough so the young calves can go under but the cows can’t,” the University of Arkansas Extension professor and forage specialist told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “The calves will roam into the adjacent paddocks to get the best quality forage, but will return to the cows.” Typically, the wire will be set at 35-45”.
Jennings said winter annuals like wheat and ryegrass can also be used as creep pastures for calves, as can clover. This method maximizes the benefits of the high-quality forage for promoting calf performance while keeping cows from becoming too fat.
Under creep grazing, the producer creates a grazing area for calves separate from that of the cows, in order to provide the calves higher quality forage. It “probably isn’t used as much as it should be,” said Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri southwest region agronomy specialist at the Stone County office in Galena, Mo.
Schnakenberg told OFN if the fence is poor, calves have a tendency to creep graze on their own. If it’s not, he recommended the producer give them that opportunity. “Have little creep gates set up,” he suggested. “They only need to be 16-18” wide and 3’ tall; adjustable bars on the top end would be handy if you’re building another gate for them to get across to another field. It’s a rather simple thing to do; they will eventually get back to their momma. They won’t stay there very long, but they’ll stay long enough to get some benefit out of it.”
The success of the grazing method depends upon the availability of better quality pastures than the pasture the cattle are already in. Another form of managed grazing, strip grazing, involves using movable fence to section off a paddock into small portions, and is often used to maximize available forage during winter or drought. Schnakenberg said producers who use this method can let calves get into winter grains, or into an adjacent pasture, before the cow herd gets there.
“In the summer months,” he said, “usually where they’re going to get the greatest benefit is when they are at least three months of age, and when they’re starting to get more forage into their diet. Then, they can move either into a grass pasture that has not been grazed yet or, ideally, a legumed field, whether it’s a hay field or a pasture that’s got lots of clover in it. You can use clover, alfalfa or lespedeza; those are three very good forages for this use.” Schnakenberg cited his colleague, University of Missouri Extension southwest region livestock specialist Eldon Cole at Mt. Vernon, Mo., who said straight legume grazing is not going to hurt three month old calves – “It’s when they get older and you have several hundred pound calves that are closer to weaning, that you start having problems with bloat.”
And calves can be kept on creep grazing all the way to, and even beyond, weaning. “If you have the opportunity to do it, it’s probably going to be a much cheaper way to put weight on those calves than if you’re buying sacks of feed,” Schnackenberg said. “Fall calving herds are probably a good fit for creep grazing, simply because by the time the calves are ready to start grazing the good grass is coming on strong in the spring. But if you have some spring calving herds, there’s still going to be some good creep grazing after the dry weather hits in the fall, so they can benefit from some of those legumes in the fall, or even wheat and rye. There’s usually a niche for most cow herds where you can make this work.”