Over the years, we have used multiple forms of creep gates on our farm, from ad hoc panel areas to a new proper creep gate, and several styles in between.
A creep gate is used to permit younger, smaller calves access to an area separate from their mama’s and the rest of the herd. There are several reasons why a bit of separation is valuable:
- To provide calves with extra feed to add weight
- Supplement a calf’s diet before weaning especially if the season’s grass is dry
- Add weight for market at a younger age
- As a weaning aid
- To give access a stock piled field just for the calves
More detailed information around why and when to use a creep gate can be found at Creep Feeding Beef Calves.
The first creep gate we built was cobbled together with panels, t-posts and a trough. I have found that panels are a very useful item to have on a farm. Each 12 foot panel is fairly lightweight (I can lift and carry one myself) and multiple panels can be moved at the same time using a forklift attachment on a small or mid-sized tractor. In the past, I have used groups of panels to build temporary corrals and working areas by connecting them together with their built-in pins and loops.
Below is a photo of the creep gate area we built from panels to feed a group of calves during the month before they were weaned. I used four panels connected into a square, leaving one corner open just wide enough for the largest calf. For added stability, T-posts were driven at the closed corners as well as at each side of the opening, and the panels secured to the t-posts with chains. I knew the cows and larger heifers would definitely try to get to the trough near the opening. Using the t-posts kept the creep area securely in place when the larger cows pushed and rubbed on the structure.
For the creep area, the most important T-post is the one located horizontally across the open corner. This controls the height of calf the walk into the area. Full grown cattle won’t stoop to crawl underneath a barrier, so I placed and chained the horizontal bar at the height of the largest calf’s neck.
In order to generate curiosity and excitement in the calves, I placed a second trough somewhat near the front of the creep gate area. For the first week, each time that I fed sweet feed to the herd in their trough, I added a bit to the trough in the creep area.
Finally, I setup a game camera to determine when the calves were entering the creep area. As soon as the calves were reliably eating the feed, I would stop giving my already well-fed, spoiled cows regular treats.
On the first day after setting up the creep gate, I checked the game camera. No calves, only shameless squirrels happily filling up on sweet feed.
The next day, a crow was boldly eating his fill without a calf in sight.
Checking the camera two days later and apparently the neighbor’s goats were perfectly comfortable jumping two fences and ducking into the creep area in the dark of night to enjoy a midnight snack. Lots of goat photos but still no calves.
Finally, after almost a week, a calf! I don’t know if she was the smartest or bravest, but regardless this little heifer was enjoying a well earned snack.
Pearl, who is Bella’s year old heifer, proved the hypothesis that only the smaller calves would enter the creep area. Here she is trying to get inside but that horizontal bar is lower than her back. Even though her head fits through, she won’t duck to go underneath.
Only a few days later and I was able to stand on the other side of the creep gate with a pen full of calves, all calmly and happily munching away. There is Poor Pearl, watching and drooling on the other side.
Before long, the largest of the calves, a cute but obnoxious steer, was standing right in the trough hogging all of the feed.
Another style of creep gate that I have used on the farm is an example of a wonderfully creative and sturdy gate built decades ago by TA’s father-in-law. Using reclaimed pipes, a welder and some kind of pipe cutter, he built an adjustable creep gate that could be attached to panels or at an open spot along a fence line.
Here is that hand crafted gate setup in the Front field to feed three just-weaned steers. I used a panel for each side and the existing woven wire fence along the back. The panels were hung on fence posts by inserting the panel’s pins through heavy duty eyes I had driven into the posts.
The adjustable opening is positioned to allow the steers to enter but keep out the cow and bull who were in the same field. In addition, I drove a T-post at each front corner and chained the panels and gate to them for added strength. No way Gilley could fit through that opening!
This past spring, Scarlet delivered a set of twin heifers. Although Scarlet is an awesome mother, the twins were skinnier than the single calves and by summer, Scarlet’s condition began to suffer trying to feed two hungry babies.
I decided to separate Scarlet and her twins from the main herd when the heifers were about 5 months old so all three could get supplemental feed and then I would wean the girls. To accomplish this plan, I needed another tailor built creep gate to fit between the South and the Backyard fields. Using an angle grinder and welder, Bill removed a few bars from an old gate, re-welded them vertically and fashioned a custom-made creep gate. This one is not adjustable, but works perfectly for its intended location and purpose, letting calves creep between those two fields.
On the South field side, I again set up a feeding trough for the cows that was in close proximity to the creep gate opening. Before long, the twins found the way to their own private feeding trough.
After a couple of weeks had passed, the day came when the twins, along with Rose’ (Garnet’s 10 month old replacement heifer) and Nellie (a 7 month old replacement heifer) were all happily snacking in the Backyard field. I quietly walked behind them through the opening in the creep gate. Tied to a nearby tree was the regular gate which I pulled into place and chained to the creep gate, effectively blocking their return. The weaning of the twins was underway! Using this process of feeding calves through a creep gate before weaning worked much better than I expected. Scarlet and her twins remained calm and relaxed, with very little mooing or no pacing.
The creep gate weaning worked so well, that we decided to purchase a new 16 ft creep gate to fit between the Front field and the corral. There is an adjustable horizontal bar on this pretty red gate to fit the size of calves being permitted access to the feed. Now, we just have to hang it up and wait until this fall’s babies are about 5 months old and ready to creep!.