Creep Grazing Accesses in Electric Fences
Creep grazing is a form of creep feeding on forages in a pasture system. The single most important reason for it is to advance nursing calf gains so calves wean at a higher weight. This added gain is relatively low cost and often no additional pasture cost all because creep grazing can be done most simply by using the forages already in the system. The technique allows the calves to roam freely and select their preference of the most palatable plants, which are usually also the highest quality. Thus, nutrient intake is greater and gains are advanced. Both the Noble Research Institute and Oklahoma State University have reported good gain responses to creep grazing. In my view there is little reason not to use creep grazing in the commercial cow-calf herd.
Special creep grazing paddocks can be planted and managed for that specific purpose, but that adds pasture cost and management obstacles. My favorite technique is to use what is already in the system. We are rotational graziers, and there is always young growth of forage (pasture) or a choice forage in the pasture mixture or paddock diversification for the calves to select. It is simply a matter of organizing and managing creep grazing accesses.
Most of our rotational grazings employ one wire, high powered, low impedance, electric fences. This report is on the various creep grazing accesses we have tried with these fences and management of the creep grazing technique. Most of the information originates from the controlled-rotational grazing unit at the Noble Research Institute Pasture Demonstration Farm. Listed below are the types of creep grazing accesses we have used, starting with the most simple, primitive models and progressing to the more detailed ones. However, all are basic and easy to construct and manage: (3) and (4) are more readily used by the calves.
1. Portable telescoping pole. This tool is placed under the fence line and is raised to the proper height for calf passage. It is moved with the cattle to provide one access.
2. Raised wire at posts. This type of access can be at only one post or along a number of posts in the fence line. Several insulators are attached to t-posts, wooden, or small round posts at increasing heights and the wire is raised to the height needed for calf passage. Pinned insulators work best. One moveable screw-tight insulator may be used on round posts. These posts should be 48 inches tall. Some graziers like to raise the wire over a longer distance of about 50 yards to encourage quicker, freer calf passage, but the wire raised at one post is sufficient.
3. Raised wire at electric gates. Each electric gate can be a creep grazing access. Our single wire electric fence gates are electrified at the hinge end and latched on the opposite end into a pinned insulator (figure 1). The latch insulators are placed at increasing heights, as stated before, and the gate latch is placed in a higher insulator latch to create a creep grazing access. The hinged end can also be constructed to be raised, but it is more difficult. In addition, each gate has a tieback post in the fence line to latch the gate fully open. That post is also a creep access when managed as stated in (2) above. This overall technique is one of my favorites. The gate and the tieback are both creep grazing accesses. We have two gates per paddock, so it is easy to have these four accesses. The herd naturally frequents the gate locations, so calves easily locate and use these accesses, which are also on the way to the water points and the next paddock to be grazed; thus, a baiting technique is automatically employed.
4. The "dogleg." This type of creep grazing access is a "jog" or "dogleg" in the fence (figures 2 and 3). The height of the wire is set the same way as mentioned before via the use of insulators at increasing heights. The measurements of our dogleg creep accesses are shown on the photograph. Through some trial and error, we found these measurements excellent for our herds. This is my favorite electric fence creep grazing access. Calves use it very readily. When the herd is in a given paddock, they always walk and graze the perimeter. In so doing, when calves come to the jog (i.e., offset in the fence line), they soon learn to go under and through, and creep grazing is in force. Thus, it is essentially self-training. Little encouragement and baiting are needed for this access, whereas the accesses in a straight fence line are not so readily used.
The idea behind all these accesses is to raise the electric wire to allow passage of all sizes of nursing calves. The wire may need to go as high as 46 to 48 inches for very large nursing calves, so the posts associated with the access should extend about 48 inches above the soil line. It is wise to install a piece of insultube to serve as an insulated handle to facilitate adjusting wire height (figure 1). We have never had a 1,200-pound cow cross a creep grazing access, but white-tailed deer use them occasionally.
Almost all of our paddocks on the relatively small controlled-rotational grazing unit have six creep grazing accesses each. On larger acreage livestock units, there should be an access every 1/4 mile, with at least some in locations that cows and calves frequent. More baiting to train calves initially may be necessary in larger units.
Creep grazing accesses can readily be rigged in permanent barbed wire fences in the fence line, gates, and stretch and corner post assemblies. Noble Research Institute handout FO4 presents a diagram, photos, and information on constructing a creep grazing access that can readily be adapted to the assemblies.
It is wise to encourage early use of the creep grazing accesses by baiting the calves across the access or using visual cues to pique their curiosity and cause them to cross. Good aromatic baits include cubed feeds, sweet molasses feeds with exceptional aroma, good grass hay and good alfalfa hay. A small pile of about 1 to 2 gallons of bait feed or a block of hay about 10 feet on the opposite side of the access is adequate to encourage early use of the accesses and creep grazing. Some producers are successful by providing bait in a low trough such as a barrel bottom, although a trough is not necessary. Visual cues such as a white rag tied to some grass or an empty feed sack weighted to the ground cause calves to go across and investigate and start creep grazing. We have also driven calves through creep grazing accesses to initiate the use of the access, but that is not necessary when baiting techniques are used properly. We like our calves to be creep grazing by six to eight weeks. They start getting added weight benefits after about three months of age.
When calves are weaned and removed from the creep grazing syndrome, they readily stop creep grazing. Our fences have from 5,000 to over 9,000 volts, and after a few days, retraining is accomplished.
Creep grazing helps to psychologically condition calves and cows to weaning on grass or feed.