TIME4TLC – To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed?

To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed

As every bite is precious, make the most of it by feeding a balanced diet, tailored to high levels of performance and an optimum rumen environment to get lambs away quickly.

Rising prices of feed, fertiliser and energy are putting pressure on margins. As production costs at farm level continue to rise, growing concerns over raw material availability are putting an even greater focus on maximising the use of homegrown resources, especially forage.

Moving lambs as quick as possible will help save on grass in late summer when fertiliser is too expensive to use in some beef and sheep enterprises.

For producers targeting early markets, it is even more important to achieve high levels of performance to ensure lambs can be drafted as soon as possible, freeing up available resources for other stock.

Feed efficiency is highest in the early stages of life and declines with age. As such, it is vital that lambs are fed a diet to maximise early life growth.

Creep feed provides the energy, DUP and starch needed to efficiently increase growth and promote rumen development.

Other benefits include:

  • Reduced energy demands on the ewe (especially for triplets, ewe lambs and ewes in poor condition)
  • Increased number of lambs slaughtered pre- weaning
  • Improved kill out % for lambs slaughtered before weaning

It is important to remember that lambs may not eat enough forage and are at risk of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and other diseases due to close contact.

Limiting setbacks in performance pre-weaning

  • As can be seen in the figure below, lambs will be consuming 50% of their diet from grass or other hard feed by 6 weeks of age.
  • It is therefore essential to ensure rumen development is optimised to avoid any setbacks post-weaning.
  • This requires very high-quality grass and/or creep feed – maintain swards between 4-8cm to maximise quality.
  • Where high quality grass is short, creep feed can help to fill the gap and maintain early growth from lambs.
  • Feed should be offered from 2-3 weeks of age.
  • Feed conversion (kg feed:kg weight gain) in young lambs is around 3.5:1 vs 7.5:1 post weaning.
  • For a feed priced at £370 this equates to £1.30/kg gain vs £2.78/kg gain for older lambs.
  • Young lambs are still developing their rumen, as a result they cannot fully digest many raw materials, it is essential therefore to select a feed formulated with only quality ingredients.
To creep feed or not to creep feed

Digestion in the rumen

The rumen is a large fermentation chamber packed full of microbes, which:

  • Digest feed to make energy and protein available to the animal
  • Require a low oxygen environment and a pH of 6.0-7.0 to optimise feed digestion

For optimal growth and digestion, the rumen microbes require a balanced source of effective fibre, digestible fibre, starch, sugars, proteins and trace elements

Rumen function

  • In lambs, we aim to promote rumen development early in life to ensure optimal performance later in life…

Choosing a concentrate for creep feeding:

  • 16-17% crude protein as fed
  • <35% cereals (e.g. barley, wheat or oats) using only highly palatable ingredients
  • Quality protein sources (e.g. soya)
  • Digestible fibre source (e.g. sugar beet), keeping fibre levels below 8% as lambs are unable to digest high levels in early life.
  • 5-10% molasses.
  • 2% high calcium/low magnesium minerals to avoid urinary calculi (crystals in urine)

Managing Stress in weaned lambs

Stress is known to suppress the immune system in lambs, and weaning is arguably the most stressful period in the lamb’s life. Additional stressors from a multitude of sources can also compound this problem further.

To creep feed or not to creep feed

Feeding and management of lambs post-weaning

There are several options available when fattening lambs post-weaning, depending on farm resources and time of year (e.g. grass finishing, grass plus concentrates, brassicas / root crops or ad lib concentrate feeding).

Independent of system there are several universal factors to consider:

  • Tailor the diet to lamb type – Lighter lambs require further frame growth and therefore protein. Heavier lambs need more energy and should be fed cereals or other high energy ingredients.
  • Sort by liveweight and bring groups forward in batches to improve efficiency.
  • Spread diet changes over 2-3 weeks to allow the microbes to adapt and reduce the risk of poor rumen function or acidosis.
  • Formulate concentrates to complement the feed and forages available on farm.

Actisaf® in lambs – overall trial results


  • Maximise weight gain when the lamb is most efficient.
  • Make changes to the diet slowly.
  • Management of the lamb around weaning is key.
  • Tailor the diet to the type of lamb and based on the availability of on-farm feeds.
  • Feed Actisaf® live yeast for improved rumen development, rumen function, feed utilisation and daily live weight gain.

Carr’s Billington’s EARLYBITE LAMB PELLETS are a top-quality lamb creep feed containing Actisaf® live yeast to stabilise rumen pH, increase feed conversion ratio, promote fibre digestion and ease transition to concentrate feed.

 EARLYBITE high-energy lamb pellets also offer a balanced source of starch and digestible fibre, and contains EarlyBite® to improve palatability and intakes for faster rumen development and better growth efficiency.

To offer EARLYBITE as a creep feed for lambs up to 12 weeks of age, contact 01228 518860 or speak to your local store or advisor.