Creeps and Creep Feeding
by A. Richard Cobb
Creep feeding young lambs while still nursing the ewe can provide valuable supplemental weight gain. This added weight gain has the most economic value for lambs managed in an intensive, early weaning production system where lambs will be maintained in a dry-lot. Conversely, for lambs that will be developed on pasture throughout the spring and summer, creep feeding would be of less value due to the relative expense of this early weight gain (which may be later attained on forage). Creep feeding also is beneficial for flocks with a high number of multiple births, or flocks with ewes having limited milk production.
Advantages to creep feeding:
- Increased weight gain, especially for multiple births
- Lambs use supplemental feed more efficiently at this time than after weaning
- Lambs can be marketed at an earlier age
- Creep fed lambs can be sold "out of the barn" and never go on pasture
- If lambs are kept on feed from an early age and do not leave the barn yard, there is no need to worm them.
Lambs will begin to nibble on feed at a very early age as they imitate their mothers. However, they will not consume significant amounts of feed until they are over a month of age. Producers will see feed consumption increase dramatically once the weaning process begins at around 60 days of age.
In an ideal situation, a creep offers a quiet place for lambs to escape from the hustle and dangers of the large group raising pens. Intake of creep feed is influenced by the design of the creep area as well as the feed provided.
Guidelines for creep construction and location:
- Set up a creep when the oldest lambs you have are 7 days old.
- If possible, locate the creep in an area of the barn that is hit by sunlight
- If possible, locate the creep in an area that is convient for you to service
- Keep the creep well bedded
- Have several openings if possible
- Make the creep opening so they can be adjusted for the size of the growing lambs
- Make sure there is adequate feeder space for the number of lambs you have
- To attract lambs, place a light bulb over the creep
- Provide clean fresh water in the creep if possible or allow lambs access to clean fresh water at all times, they will drink more that you think they will.
- Clean any feeders at least once a day. Pick up the old feed and feed it to your ewes
- If you have self feeders, clean the throats of each feeder at least once a day. Often feed will build up on the sides of the throat and mildew and greatly reduce the feeding area available for the lambs.
- Sometimes it is necessary to raise self feeders as the bedding builds up around it and the lambs get bigger. Doing so will keep the throat cleaner.
- Make sure the sides of the creep are high enough that ewes cannot jump over them.
- Make sure the vertical openings in the creep are narrow enough that ewes cannot get through them. If you have a problem ewe, it is best to remove her from the pen.
- Creeps cannot always be large and spacious, if they need to be small in size, make sure they have enough feed available for the number of lambs using the area. You may have to feed the creep more than once a day.
- Creeps to not have to be fancy
- A small tire can be used as a creep gate
- Creep gates do not have to be vertical; they can be horizontal if an old gate is used
The creep ration need not be expensive or complex. Utilize covered feeders that minimize contamination from lambs standing or playing in the feeder. Young lambs are very sensitive to what they eat, and will not consume stale or contaminated feed.
The principle behind creep feeding is to stimulate lambs to eat and therefore promote weight gain. Therefore, highly palatable feeds must be provided. At a young age, lambs prefer feeds that are finely ground and have a small particle size. Feedstuffs high in palatability for young lambs include soybean meal, ground corn, sweet feeds, and alfalfa hay. These feeds should be replaced daily to keep fresh. A simple mixture of 80% to 85% ground or cracked corn and 15% to 20% soybean meal, with free choice high quality alfalfa hay is a very palatable early creep ration. The feed being fed to the ewes may also be included free choice in the creep feeder. Early in the creep feeding period, stimulating intake is of primary concern. These diets should be formulated to contain 20% crude protein.
As the lambs get to 4 to 6 weeks of age and older, coarser feeds become more palatable. Providing feeds early will enhance the lambs' acceptance to these coarser feeds. As the lamb gets older, intakes and growth rates should increase. Additionally, the proportion of the gain that is derived from dry feed vs. milk increases. During this time, lambs may be gradually switched to a complete pelleted ration or a ration containing cracked corn and supplement. Over time, the ration should be changed to represent what will be fed once the lamb is weaned. Complete feeds are available commercially, which can be convenient yet expensive. Pelleted supplements to be mixed with cracked corn are generally cheaper, and are also widely available. At weaning, protein requirements of lambs drop to 15% to 16%. An advantage of the complete feeds and protein supplements is that they are fortified with antibiotics, vitamins, and minerals which are important for lamb health and performance. Lambs should be vaccinated with Clostridium Perfringens C & D to prevent overeating disease prior to weaning at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Lambs are weaned at different ages depending upon the system the producer uses. Weaning is essentially removing the lambs from a milk based diet to a grain based one. Weaning should be handled carefully as this is a time that many ewes can have their udders damaged by producers hurrying to complete the process. We recommend that ewes be weaned over a period of 5 or so days. A paper on weaning of ewes can be found on Illini Sheep net under papers