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Should I Creep Feed Lambs?

26 February 2015


Don't creep feed if grass is good enough - you don't see the benefits.

This is according to EBLEX researchers responding to its recent study evaluating lambs on different pastures and rations along key performance indicator lines.

Data gathered during the EBLEX-funded sheep key performance indicator (KPI) project has found that lambs on well-managed, re-seeded grazing can match the performance of lambs supplemented with creep feed on permanent pasture.

If there is a plentiful supply of high-quality grass available (sward height of 4-6cm), creep feeding will not improve performance, only add cost. Strategically feeding creep to some management groups can compensate for grass quality rather than feeding to all lambs.

But EBLEX says that creep feeding young spring-born lambs is a good option for producers that have low quality forage or limited grazing for their flock.

"Lambs fed with creep or other supplementary feeds should finish quicker and as such be marketed sooner, prior to the traditional price drop which occurs later in the season," said Livestock scientist, Dr Liz Genever. 

Feed Conversion Efficiency of Creep

Good feed conversion efficiency (FCE) is essential to cover the cost of concentrates and can vary from 5:1 to 10:1. A sensitivity analysis will show how FCE and concentrate costs can affect the concentrate cost per kg of liveweight gain and whether feeding is viable. Younger lambs convert feed more efficiently which makes introducing feed earlier more economical.

How to Introduce Creep

Lambs introduced to creep during the first two to three weeks after turnout can be expected to eat 40-50kg per head by sale if it is offered ad-lib and the sward height is around 4cm. Lambs on restricted grazing with limited creep feed will gain on average an extra one kg liveweight for every 5-6kg of creep feed compared to un-supplemented lambs.

Older lambs must be introduced to creep very carefully with a gradual increase to avoid gorging and dietary upset. Forward creep grazing, where lambs are given access to the best grazing before the ewes, can be used to prevent the need for creep feeding.

Creep Feed Options

Creep feed can either be purchased as small pellets or a coarse mix. A home-mixed ration based on whole barley and 15 per cent soya bean meal is also suitable (ME = 12.5MJ/kg DM). For long-term feeding, a mineral suitable for lambs should be included at a rate of 2.5 per cent with no added phosphorus, magnesium or copper.

When considering the design for a feeder, it must:

  • Have easy access for lambs but not ewes
  • Be sheltered and on dry standing to prevent poaching
  • Have fresh and clean feed – clean the troughs out regularly
  • Be clean to prevent disease build-up, e.g. coccidiosis. If poaching has occurred apply lime to the area to minimise the risk

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