Should I creep feed my lambs/kids?


It depends.

Creep feeding is when you offer supplemental nutrition to nursing lambs/kids, via a gate that only lambs/kids can fit through. The supplemental feed is usually concentrates, but creep grazing is also a possibility. Lambs/kids eating their dam’s feed is not creep feeding.

It is customary to creep-feed lambs/kids that are born early, weaned early, and finished in dry lot. Creep feeding is standard in most intensive sheep/goat production systems (e.g., accelerated birthing and confinement rearing). Some lambs/kids reared on pasture are creep-fed.

Suckling lambs/kids that are destined for the high-end Christmas and Easter markets should be creep-fed. Lambs/kids sold to 4-H/FFA club members (to show as market animals) should be creep-fed. Most seedstock producers creep feed their lambs/kids.

Creep feeding helps to develop the rumen. It teaches lambs/kids to eat. Creep feeding is especially advantageous when milk is a limiting factor, e.g., on farms that have a lot of multiple births (triplets or more). Lambs/kids that are weaned early (<90 days) should be creep fed.

Creep-fed lambs/kids usually grow faster. They’re fleshier, so they usually grade higher and bring higher prices at the auction. Lambs/kids gain most efficiently when they are young. It makes more sense to feed lambs/kids than ewes/does. Creep feeding will be more advantageous for animals with high potential for growth.

Creep rations should be high protein. Fifteen to 20 percent is normal. Feed ingredients should have small particle size and be highly palatable. They  need to be highly digestible for the pre-ruminant. Cracked corn and soybean meal are the two best creep feed ingredients. Pelleted rations are also common. Sometimes, the lactating diet can be used as a creep feed.

In the beginning, lambs/kids are just learning how to eat. They won’t consume significant amounts of creep feed until they are five or six weeks old. Once the lambs/kids have sufficiently developed rumens, they can be fed whole grains instead of processed grains.

It is important that creep-fed lambs be vaccinated for enterotoxemia (overeating disease). Feeders should not be allowed to run out of feed. Feed should be kept fresh. Feeders which prevent lambs/kids from standing in them are needed. It’s a good idea to include a coccidiostat in the creep ration.

While there are many situations where creep feeding may be advantageous, creep feeding needs to pay for itself. It does not always, especially with goats. Creep feeding may not be beneficial when pasture nutrition is high or growth potential is low. Sometimes, the value of increased gain or body condition does not cover the cost of the feed. Everyone needs to put a pencil to it.

Creep grazing is when you give lambs/kids access to a pasture ahead of their dams, when the pasture is cleaner and more nutritious. Similar to creep feeding, you need a gate that gives lambs/kids access but denies ewes/does. Getting lambs/kids to go into another paddock can be challenging with young lambs/kids. Sheep/goats can also be creep grazed with cattle, giving them first access to a pasture ahead of the cattle.