Creep grazing calves in front of cows can have a positive effect on liveweight gain going in late summer and autumn. It also helps to break the cow and calf bond in the run-up to weaning.
It is not for everyone. Without the correct infrastructure, it will test the patience of any farmer.
But for farmers looking to try creep grazing for the first time, outlined are five tips to getting up and going.
1. Mains electric works best
Good fencing around the field boundaries and internally is crucial to make creep grazing work.
Mains electric fencing is strongly recommended, as it will hold cows back once calves start to creep under temporary wires and graze ahead.
Battery fencers will work, but a high voltage is essential to make cows respect the wire. Go for a unit with at least 12V power and, ideally, use a unit with a solar panel.
2. Start off with small areas
Start off small. Set up a temporary wire fence or creep gate in one corner of the field where calves are grazing with cows.
As calves are in the same field and within sight and smell of their dams, cows should remain settled and less inclined to break fences. Also, calves can easily get back to their dams to suck.
Once calves get used to creeping ahead of cows, increase the area they get. Eventually, aim to let calves creep into the next paddock.
3. Raising the wire
To help calves creep ahead of cows, use a temporary electric wire. Raise the wires at both points where it meets the field boundaries.
If a calf cannot get back to its dam, it is easier to manually herd animals towards the boundary fence and back under the wire.
Cows are more likely to congregate at these points also, again making it easier to move calves back under the wire if necessary.
To raise the wire, plastic horse posts are ideal. Alternatively, tape together two plastic stakes or pig tails together.
4. Feeding concentrates
Once calves are creeping forward, concentrates can be offered in troughs that can be moved from paddock to paddock with ease.
Feeding meal in troughs is more efficient than static ad-lib feeders, as all calves can access meal at the same time and it is easier to allocate 2kg or 3kg/head on a daily basis.
If using static ad-lib feeders, can they be set up on a central laneway so that calves can access from multiple paddocks?
5. Use a double-wire fence to lock calves off cows
As weaning approaches and calves are used to creep grazing in front of cows, add a second, lower wire to the fence.
This will help lock calves off cows during the day.
Allow calves back to the cows in the evening to suck, then lock them off again the following morning.
It is not a long-term practice, but it will help to take the stress out of weaning once calves are eventually split from their dams.