In this article, CAFRE beef and sheep adviser, Gareth Beacom, Enniskillen, discusses creep feeding and creep grazing lambs.
Creep feeding is a debate which crops up annually with BDG members and has many pros and cons.
Although meal ration prices have considerably increased, there are also many benefits of creep feeding.
The main benefits are getting lambs sold earlier, hopefully at a higher price and freeing up grass in the late summer and autumn months.
For farmers who may struggle to bulk up silage supplies this year, creep feeding may take the pressure off grazing swards and allow for more fields to be closed off and harvested along with either first or second-cut silage.
Creep feeding lambs also allows the option to wean lambs earlier, further reducing the pressure on grazing ground.
You can graze ewes on poorer and more unproductive swards or use for cull ewes to sell earlier to avail of higher cull prices.
Ruminants are more efficient at converting protein into live weight gain when they are younger rather than when they are older.
Hence the exceptional daily live weight gains that can be seen with creep fed lambs compared to lambs fed intensively in the autumn and winter months.
Creep feeding lambs
Research carried out by Teagasc in Athenry (Table 1) demonstrates the extra performance that can be achieved when supplementing lambs at different feed rates and under different grazing heights.
The results highlight that creep feeding should not just replace good grassland management.
The highest daily live weight gains are achieved when lambs are offered high quality grass as well meal.
The results also show that lambs consumed less creep meal when offered more grass whilst having higher daily live weight gains.
However, Table 1 also shows that the costs of creep feeding at various levels range from £10 – £20 per lamb.
Although this does not take into account the extra grass freed up by creep feeding, it still means that a significant number of lambs would need to be sold at a higher price.
Hence, it may not be the best option for later born lambs as they would struggle to be finished prior to July.
However, for lambs born mid-March or earlier, there is a reasonable argument for creep feeding if grazing ground is going to be under pressure with rising fertiliser costs.
A mixed approach may be the best option for some farmers i.e., targeting a couple of batches for creep feeding such as early forward lambs or lambs already achieving a high daily live weight gain.
Or lambs on ewes targeted for culling to get these ewes off the grazing platform earlier and avail of good prices for them in addition.
Besides, creep grazing via a creep gate can deliver similar levels of performance to creep feeding without the additional cost of creep feed.
It has been shown to improve weaning weights by up to 2kg. Also, it can be coupled with creep feeding to significantly boost performance by offering lambs meal in troughs and the best possible grass available.
This has the added advantage of being able to move troughs easier than a creep feeder which helps reduce the build-up of infection and will also be easier when moving to a new paddock.
However, this does require good fences and would not be possible in all farms, i.e., farms with fragmented ground etc.
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