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Stamm: Creep pens benefit calves

Each winter, Kentucky farmers find themselves contending with the effects of mud. Mud can cause a multitude of problems including weak calves, wasted hay, destroyed fields and erosion. Creep pens may be a way to ensure calves get off to a good start and reduce the amount and effects of mud on your farm.

Creep pens allow you to designate a space for calves to rest and, in some cases, get supplemental feed and access to clean water without having to compete with or be in the way of adult cattle. These pens can improve calf health and reduce their risk of being trampled by adults. UK’s Eden Shale Farm in Owen County, which is operated by the Kentucky Beef Network, has had great success using creep pens for their calves.

Calves instinctively want to rest in dry spaces. Oftentimes, this means they lie in wasted hay in the feeding area, but this increases their risk of being trampled.

By installing a creep pen, you are allowing only calves to have access to one area of your farm. These pens are created by using creep gates, which have smaller openings. The creep area should provide a dry, comfortable area for calves using bedding or grass.

Placing a heavy traffic pad at pen entrances will cut down on erosion and mud. Within the area, a producer may want to give the calves a place to seek shelter and/or supplemental feed. By providing supplemental feed you also can jump start your weaning program.

Find a dry, well-drained area of your farm to place a creep pen. This area should be near the calving area. You can maximize its use by positioning the pen in a location where there is access to multiple pastures.

Ideally, it would be near your winter-feeding area, hay storage facility and machinery storage to help reduce fuel costs and time. Being near the feeding area can also help calves pair up with their mom after they finish eating.

To install a creep area, you will need gates, fence, geotextile fabric, gravel and possibly access to feeders and waterers. You can reduce installation expenses by using materials you have on hand and repurposing an area of your farm that fits creep pen criteria.

While you still may have some upfront costs, the cost of losing one calf would pay for this project’s implementation.

Information source: Steve Higgins, director of environmental compliance for the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. Clay Stamm is a Clark County Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources. He can be reached at clay.stamm@uky.edu.