Lambs (or kids) born in spring and summer normally have plenty of grazing and will grow well if placed on pasture with their dams. Animals born in winter, however, may need extra nutrition, and the best way of providing this is by ‘creep feeding’. A ‘creep’ is a barrier that allows the lambs to feed, but blocks the ewes from getting to the food.
Lambs should be started on creep feed when they are between one and two weeks old. However, they will start to eat large amounts of feed only when they are about four weeks old. Apart from providing good nutrition, creep feeding ensures that lambs get used to dry feed and helps to start early weaning.
The creep area
The creep itself consists of openings in the fence or gate large enough for the lambs to get through, but too small for the ewes to enter. The creep area should contain feed and water, and be comfortable, dry and well-bedded. About 1m² of space per lamb is recommended.
The creep ration should be finely ground for very young lambs. As the animals get older, feed them coarser diets and whole grains. The ration should be fresh and dry at all times and never be allowed to run out. Maize is the most commonly used creep feed, but small grains such as barley, wheat and triticale can also be used.
In fact, these are a good idea for very young lambs as they are higher in protein than maize – and a good protein supply is important at this age. As they grow, the lambs’ protein requirements decrease. Other sources of high quality protein include fish meal and oilcake meal (from soya beans or cotton seed, for example). Oats has a low energy content and is not suitable as feed if used on its own.
Additives and growth stimulants can also be introduced to the feed. These include substances that change digestion and absorption, and those that improve the animal’s health. Ask your vet or animal health practitioner for guidance.
Sources: Agri Africa (www.farmingportal.co.za); Elsenburg infopak prepared for the Western Cape department of agriculture by TS Brand and B Aucamp.