Guide to creep feeding lambs when grazing limited

Sheep producers with low-quality forage or limited grazing for their flock should look at creep feeding young spring-born lambs, according to experts.

Liz Genever, senior Eblex livestock scientist, says 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.

See also: Plan creep feeding to optimise lamb growth

But she says farmers should use creep feed strategically. “Feeding creep to some management groups can compensate for grass quality rather than feeding to all lambs.

“However, when there is a plentiful supply of high-quality grass available (sward height of 4-6cm), creep feeding will not improve performance, only add cost,” she says.

Good feed conversion efficiency (FCE) is essential to cover the cost of concentrates and can vary from 5:1 to 10:1. Dr Genever adds: “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 a head by sale when it is offered ad-lib and the sward height is about 4cm.

Whereas 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 unsupplemented lambs.

Dr Genever says farmers must be careful when introducing creep to older 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,” she says.

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% soya bean meal is also suitable (ME=12.5MJ/kg DM).

Dr Genever says for long-term feeding, a mineral suitable for lambs should be included at a rate of 2.5% 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, eg. coccidiosis. If poaching has occurred apply lime to the area to minimise the risk

Feed conversion efficiency of creep

Creep price

(£/t)

Feed conversion efficiency (kg gain:kg concentrates)

5:1

6:1

7:1

8:1

9:1

10:1

150

0.75

0.90

1.05

1.20

1.35

1.50

200

1.00

1.20

1.40

1.60

1.80

2.00

250

1.25

1.50

1.75

2.00

2.25

2.50

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