ID-76 CREEP GRAZING FOR BEEF CALVES
Harold B. Rice, Curtis Absher and Larry Turner*
*Extension Feed Production Specialist Extension Beef Specialist and
Extension Agricultural Engineer, respectively.
Creep grazing calves on separate pastures
from cows can add pounds to calf weaning weights. In creep grazing, nursing
calves get special attention. They either graze before the cows do, getting
first choice of the more succulent, highly nutritious pasture, or they
have access to special pastures. They enter the special pastures through
gates with openings large enough for calves but too small for cows to get
through. In an alternative method, electric fences are positioned high
enough (36 to 42 inches) for calves to pass while cows cannot.
Why Creep Graze?
Recommended calving seasons for Kentucky
commercial cow/calf producers are generally spring, Feb. 15 - April 30
and fall, Sept. 1 - Nov. 1. These calving seasons result from breeding
periods, May 1 through July 20 and Nov. 20 through January 20, for spring
and fall, respectively. Pastures can be planned to produce nutrition adequate
to support high conception rates at these times. Pastures for breeding
can provide abundant, high quality feed for both the cow and the calf up
to the time calves are 3 to 4 months old. After cows are bred, in either
fall or spring, the availability and quality of forage usually declines.
Further, it is expensive and inefficient
to feed cows extra feed to produce more milk for calves late in the lactation
period. Calves depend on milk for the first 3 to 4 months of their lives
but after that age most of their gain comes from feed other than milk.
High quality forage can produce most of this gain. Creep grazing, therefore,
is an appropriate method to ensure that calves have access to high quality
forage and consequently increase weaning weights.
Heavy calves need more than milk. Spring
calves reach the critical age when milk is declining and high quality forage
is needed. However, if tall rescue is the predominant forage species, both
quantity and quality of pastures will have declined at the very time calves
need high quality forage most. Fall-born calves reach this age generally
in January and February, when there is little pasture growth. Therefore,
to maintain economical calf gains during this time period, producers have
3 choices: (1) creep feed grain, (2) creep feed high quality
forages, or, (3) feed both cows and calves abundantly.
Creep Feeding Options
Creep feeding grain can increase calf
weaning weights by 40 to 75 lb. However, the cost is high. Creep-fed calves
generally require 8 to 17 lb of grain for each pound of added gain, because
calves prefer eating readily available creep feed to grazing forages. Rather
than gain from creep feed being "added on," this gain comes from the calves'
eating grain "in place of" forages. Prevailing prices for grain and feeder
calves often make creep feeding with grain unprofitable.
Creep feeding is not without some problems.
(1) Creep-fed steer calves may get too fat to command top prices
as feeders if they are early maturing (genetically). Fat deposits in udders
of heifer calves kept for breeding may decrease their future milk production.
(2) In addition, creep feeding makes differences in weaning weights
between calves more difficult to attribute to genetics, so selection of
replacement heifers and breeding bulls becomes less accurate if based on
Creep Grazing Forage
Creep grazing high quality forages
produces additional weight gains with minimum cost. Possible advantages
of creep grazing are
• Increased weaning weight under
most conditions. • Generally lower cost than creep
feeding grain. • Less labor and more convenience
than creep feeding grain. • Allowing for increased stocking
rate of cow/calf units without sacrificing weaning weights. Because calves
3 to 4 month of age gain from high quality forage, forage replaces milk. • Less dependence on persistent
milk production. • If creep grazing is practiced,
extra emphasis can be given to maintaining legumes in only areas which
will be creep grazed. For example, efforts can be targeted at allowing
increased weaning weights by renovating only the part of the pasture area
available to calves.