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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cow Calf Manager

John B. Hall, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Livestock Update, June 1998

Creep Grazing

By now the first crop of hay is up and in the barn or it soon will be. The cool wet weather has kept our pastures in lush conditions for most of the spring. However, as summer comes quickly upon us, pasture quality is changing rapidly. Pastures mature quickly if they are not grazed or clipped to keep forage in a vegetative (leafy) state. More mature pastures will support mature cows especially in mid to late lactation, but they do not supply enough nutrition for calves to grow rapidly. How pastures are managed can dramatically effect weaning weights of calves.

The nutrient requirements of young calves and the source of that nutrition are also changing rapidly. At about 3 months of age, a calf’s rumen becomes functional. Between 3 to 5 months, the source of a majority of the calf’s nutrition shifts from milk to grass. Unfortunately in spring calving herds, this shift comes at a time when the quality and availability of our pastures are declining. Creep grazing of calves can provide calves the needed nutrition for more rapid growth.

Creep grazing is a management practice that allows nursing calves access to high quality pasture while preventing their dams from grazing the same area. Research at VA Tech indicates that creep grazed calves will be 25 to 50 lbs heavier at weaning than non-creep fed calves (Table 1). The lower the quality of the pasture or the more susceptible the forage species is to drought or "summer slump" the greater the benefits of creep grazing.

Table 1. Effect of Creep Grazing on Calf Gains in Virginia

Pasture typeNo Creep Grazing - Average Daily Gain/Calf, lbsCreep Grazing - Average Daily Gain/Calf, lbs
Bluegrass - White Clover0.941.57
Bluegrass/White Clover and

Creep grazing is a very simple practice to start. An area of the pasture needs to be selected that parallels the area where cows will be grazing. In general, three to 4 calves can be creep-grazed per acre of permanent pasture. Up to 10 calves can be grazed per acre of summer annuals. For example, a herd with 60 calves you will need to fence off about 15 acres for creep grazing. Forage in this area should always be high quality; therefore, cows should be turned in periodically to the area to graze it off.

Either electric fence or creep gates can be used to limit access of cows to the creep grazing area while letting calves come and go as they please. If you are using electric fence, a single strand of wire, polywire or polytape should be placed 24" to 30" above the ground. This will keep cows out while allowing calves to slip under. Personally, I prefer a single wire to creep gates. Calves catch on earlier and have less trouble finding their way back to their dams, even if spooked. Detailed instructions for constructing creep gates can be found at your local extension office. If creep gates are used, they should be placed by areas of congregation such as mineral feeders or waterers. This will encourage calves to investigate the gates and learn to move through them.

Give creep grazing a try this summer. I think you will be pleased with the results.

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