Give Calves the Groceries They Need to Grow with Creep Grazing
For cow-calf producers, heavier calves mean a better bottom line come weaning and shipping time. Creep grazing offers an easy and affordable way for producers to pack on those extra pounds during the grazing season. Research has shown creep grazing nursing calves gain between 30 and 50 pounds more than those that do not creep graze.
According to Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, an extension beef cattle specialist at the University of Kentucky (UK), creep grazing is also a way for producers to help calves reach their full genetic potential.
“Folks invest in better genetics to get better weaning weights and milk production,” says Lehmkuhler. “By the time that calf is 3 to 4 months old, it’s relying a whole lot more on forages to supply the nutrients for growth than the milk it’s getting from the cow. So, if you’re investing all that money on improved genetics, it just makes sense to also give that calf the groceries it needs to meet that genetic potential.”
Lehmkuhler is one of four extension specialists at UK focused on cattle nutrition and management. As part of his extension role, he also serves as an instructor for UK’s Master Grazer Program. Master Grazer is an educational program developed to assist producers to improve their livestock grazing practices. Along with online resources, the program includes in-person, hands-on workshops for producers on grazing, fencing and more.
Lehmkuhler notes the idea of creep grazing is introduced early on in the Master Grazer program as an easy add-on to a managed grazing program. A straightforward practice, creep grazing involves allowing nursing calves access to higher quality forage in designated areas separate from their mothers, similar to a leader-follower style grazing system. While creep grazing is similar to creep feeding, it can be performed less expensively, requires less labor, and is, in general, more convenient for producers. It’s also an easy way to more efficiently use limited acreage of higher quality forage and gives graziers another avenue to get their money’s worth out of fencing expenses.
When considering incorporating creep grazing into existing pasture management, Lehmkuhler suggests producers should start by looking at their electric fencing system. “Get a fence charger that will be able to support your fencing needs plus a little more,” says Lehmkuhler. “It’s better to go a little bigger initially. Then you’ll have the capacity to push the voltage you need and keep the fence hot as your operation grows.”
For materials, Lehmkuhler suggests a single-strand temporary Turbo Wire electric fence or high-tensile wire to subdivide pastures. The wire should be placed at nose height of the cow to let calves go underneath and get to creep grazing areas but deter cows.
“One thing people worry about is while the calves are moving, the calves are staying behind,” notes Lehmkuhler.
Lehmkuhler assures producers, however, that as long as calves have the opportunity to get back underneath that fence, they’re most likely going to get back with the cow just fine. “I tell producers not to worry much about it,” says Lehmkuhler. “It might be an issue with young newborn calves, but not when they are 2 or 3 months old.”
After calves have grazed an area, it may be necessary for cows to access and graze creep areas at the end of a grazing period to fully utilize the forages present and maintain uniformity of forage quality.
Along with having the right fencing system, it’s also important to point out, creep grazing is a practice that works best in situations where soil and forage production capabilities are not inhibited by environmental factors (i.e., snow, drought, etc.).
“Spring and early summer are the best grazing periods because the nutritional plane of forages is beginning to ramp up,” says Lehmkuhler. “With fall grazing we’re relying on a lot of stockpiled forage which tends to run short sometime in January and, typically, quality is declining later into winter months.”’
Lehmkuhler notes how much forage producers should allot per calf in creep grazing areas is a function of the size and age of calves.
“A quarter of an acre wouldn’t be unheard of for allocation of a lighter weight calf (300-350 lbs),” says Lehmkuhler. “Generally, down here (in Kentucky), we’re allotting 600-lb stocker calves around ¾ to of an acre of forage.
Additionally, the Noble Research Institute notes, if planting or establishing a creep area, generally one acre will accommodate 4 to 6 calves, or more in some instances (irrigated pastures or high rainfall areas). As a rule of them, Noble experts recommend allocating approximately 10% of pasture for creep grazing.
Along with the amount of forage, producers may also want to consider adding in higher quality forages to creep grazing areas, if not already there. Creating a creep grazing area can also be a preemptive measure to spur a pasture renovation. In renovation scenarios, Lehmkuhler suggests producers in the Southeast especially, consider including a novel endophyte fescue variety in pasture mixes. In most other cases, the addition of a clover (red or white) is the least expensive forage option, which will also consecutively, help reduce pasture fertility needs.
Overall, creep grazing is a management change that’s easy to put into practice for most producers and has the potential to benefit them greatly come weaning time. Lehmkuhler encourages producers interested in giving creep grazing a try to contact their county extension offices for more information.
“There’s quite a bit of information out there, I just encourage them to look for those resources backed by science,” says Lehmkuhler. “Extension and university publications are a good source for those.”
Readers can learn more about creep grazing here. In addition, a multitude of grazing resources is available on UK’s Master Grazer website. Special thanks to Oak Hollow Angus for their photo contributions to this article. You may also follow Oak Hollow Angus on Twitter using the handle @OakHollowAngus.