Creep Feeding

The objective of any farm sheep enterprise should be to develop thrifty, fast-gaining lambs that can be marketed at an early age. Creep feeding may help accomplish this objective.

The most efficient conversion of feed to weight gain occurs during the first 100 to 120 days of a lamb’s life. Lambs can easily gain 1 pound per day in their first 70 to 80 days. In well-managed flocks of efficient, fast-gaining breeds, it is common for lambs to reach weights of 110 pounds at 120 days of age.

Young lambs gain 1 pound for every 3 to 4 pounds of feed consumed. By comparison, old-crop feeder lambs require 5 to 6 pounds of feed per pound of gain. There are several potential advantages to using a creep-feeding program:

  • Increased weight gains, especially for multiple-birth lambs.
  • Highly efficient feed conversion.
  • Early marketing.
  • Early growth and development of the lamb lessens the stress of early weaning.

When practical, start lambs on creep feed as soon after birth as possible. Ordinarily, lambs do not consume much feed until they are 3 to 4 weeks of age. However, the small amount consumed at earlier ages is critical for establishing rumen function in the lamb. Most studies have shown that if the intake of the creep ration does not average 1/2 pound per day from 20 days of age to weaning, then no increase in lamb performance is realized from creep feeding.

Locate the creep feeders where the lambs will use them. In a drylot, place the feeders in a convenient, dry, well-bedded, protected area. In pasture areas, place the feeders relatively close to water tanks, resting areas, or salt and supplement feeders.

To get lambs started on a creep, make sure the starter ration is palatable. Soybean meal in the starter ration increases palatability and provides additional protein. However, soybean meal is expensive. High-quality alfalfa hay, alfalfa pellets, and oat grain also are very palatable.

The creep ration does not have to be complex. It should provide at least 15 to 16 percent natural protein. A simple creep ration containing 80 percent grain sorghum, 10 percent oats, 10 percent oilseed meal, with alfalfa hay free choice should be adequate. Depending on the cost of grain, corn can be substituted for grain sorghum, and wheat or barley can replace half the grain sorghum. In general, young lambs prefer coarse, rolled grains and pelleted feeds. The cost of preparation can make the ration costly, but rate of gain and feed efficiency are increased by pelleting complete feeds, concentrates, and roughages. Pelleting also allows the producer to include different additives, standardize the grain-roughage ratio, and lessen feed waste. Do not feed dusty, moldy, wet feeds. If practical, give any feed left in the creep feeder daily to the ewes, and provide the lambs with fresh feed every day. Add antibiotics to creep rations according to a veterinarian’s recommendations to provide some protection against low-level infections.

Individual management systems differ, but often it is feasible to discontinue feeding the ewes grain after the lambs are approximately 6 weeks old and are eating adequate amounts of the creep feed. It is more efficient to feed the grain directly to the lambs because they will convert the feed to gain more efficiently than the ewes can convert feed to milk to lamb gain.

Some producers wean lambs when they are 60 days old. Early weaning of 40 to 50 pound lambs can be successful, provided the lambs are consuming adequate amounts of feed. Research has shown that the ewe’s milk production reaches a peak at about four weeks following lambing, and steadily declines to about half as much by the 10th week of lactation. About 74 percent of all milk is produced in the first eight weeks of lactation.