Some farmers are reluctant to establish creep feeding programmes because of the expense of setting up creep feeders and buying in extra rations.
When the ewes are at peak milk production the lambs grow at their maximum genetic potential. The nutritional needs of the lambs increase when after its peak the milk production significantly decreases.
Benefits of creep feed
- Instead of the standard 90 days, lambs with access to creep feed can be weaned at 60 days as they show better weight gain than those without it.
- The ewes can recover more quickly after early weaning and use their nutrient intake for reproductive functions. This results in the next breeding season to possibly start earlier. When the ewes have an improved body condition score it ensures a desirable conception rate and a higher lambing percentage in the next lambing season.
- Weaning stress is reduced due to lambs being already used to dry rations from creep feeding.
- Margins improve as creep-fed lambs are heavier weaners and need less time around the feedlot.
- The development of a functional rumen in young lambs are encouraged by creep feed.
- Both ewes and lambs eat less thus reducing grazing pressure.
- Rather than feeding the ewe for milk production, it is more cost effective to feed the lamb directly.
Choosing the ration
Experts agree that the issue of ration costs should be approached with an open mind. If some of the materials are self-produced, the cost can be notably reduced as a farmer can mix his/her own creep feed.
The farmer should think about what type of roughage should be added to the creep feed as the lamb has a very limited ability to distinguish between the nutritional value of roughage and that of pasture. Meaning roughage should also meet texture requirements and the need for long fibre, which plays a role in rumen development.
The creep ration should be finely ground for very young lambs; as they grow older coarser mixtures can be fed to the lambs. It is important not milling the ration too finely and of keeping it dust-free to avoid reduced intake.
Creep feed should be of a high quality with the right amino acid profile and a high percentage of bypass proteins.
Creep feed can be made up of raw materials manufactured on the farm, or alternatively ready-to-use formulated creep feed pellets can be purchased.
It is cheaper for the farmers to mix their own creep feed on the farm, but that buying in creep feed pellets has considerable benefits. The balanced creep feed pellets have already been formulated to meet all the nutritional needs of suckling lambs. Quicker growth is ensured as the intake on creep feed pellets are higher. If you mix rations at home, it can be very dusty at times, causing poor intake and problems with the lambs’ lungs and eyes.
The content of creep feed
A typical creep feed ration is very high in energy (roughly 50% to 60% grain), contains about 20% oilcake flour that high-quality bypass protein consist of, and a full range of high-quality mineral and vitamin premixes for optimal results.
10% of the mixture can consist of high-quality, leafy lucerne. To help control coccidiosis it is important to include an ionophore. To prevent kidney stones, ammonium chloride has to be included.
When to feed
Research indicates that lambs can receive creep feed as early as seven to ten days after birth although the guidelines recommend supplying creep feed to lambs from ten to 14 days after the first ewe has lambed.
It is recommended that the farmer starts with 200g per lamb per day if creep feed is only fed from 30 days. Over a seven-day period the amount can be gradually increased to 600g per day per lamb.
It is found that lambs exposed to creep feed from seven days, do not need gradual exposure. In addition, if the intake is consistently above 650g per day, lambs can be weaned between eight and twelve weeks.
Installing creep feed troughs
- Make sure the measurements of the creep pens are suitable for the weaning weight of the lambs and for the breed farmed.
- There should be a clean, dry space around the trough and the creep area must supply enough feed and clean water.
- An adequate creep feed surface is 0,16m² per lamb.
- Depending on whether the lambs are weaned at 25 or 30kg, the openings through which lambs need to crawl must be between 20 and 25cm.
- The proposed trough space per lamb is about 5cm.
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