Do Lambs Need Creep Feed?

When you are raising sheep, one of your management options is to creep feed lambs. The real question is should you, do your lambs need creep feed and why?

Creep feed provides extra calories for lambs, while excluding the ewes. Flocks on high quality pasture generally do not need to creep feed, while lambs inside are normally creep fed. Creep feeding may not be economical for your flock or situation.

Lambs do not need creep feed

To be clear, lambs do not need creep feed, it is an optional source of extra calories for the sheep producer to provide in order to get the lambs gaining weight more quickly.

Creep feed is normally used in a barn, rather than outside, and can be a purchased or homemade mix. Along with the creep feed, the lambs are also given a easy to eat hay, also in the creep area.

Some farmers are dedicated to creep feeding, many farmers in our area need to get lambs growing more quickly and are willing to pay for the grain to do it.

Others do not feel that the extra work and expense is worth the results. You will have to decide which suits you and your lambs the best.

Sheep Creep Feed is my article that goes into the situations where you might want to creep feed your lambs.

Flock management considerationWill creep feeding help?
bottle lambsyes, extra calories and reduces days on bottle
off season lambsyes, extra calories at off time for pasture
little or poor pastureyes, extends feeding ability of pasture you have
putting fat on roaster size lambsyes, easy way to put on finish
plenty of pasture, good ewesnot really, no need for creep feed
raise sheep with minimal cash costsno, creep feed will add cost
Here are some general considerations for creep feeding lambs: if you want to maximize growth, creep feed. If you want less cost into flock, do not. Please note that creep feeding will not eliminate the need for milk replacer, it merely helps reduce total weeks of bottle feeding required.
Here is some of the creep feed that we get for lambs that has a mineral mix in it and smells like molasses. The lambs seem to love it.

Are Sheep Expensive To Raise? gives you a look on what expenses you can expect from raising sheep to see if creep feeding is worth it to you.

Creep feed is a lamb friendly feed for young lambs

Creep feed is a mix of grains and supplement that is made to be palatable for young lambs. A purchased creep feed normally has some pellets, oats and cracked corn with a molasses coating.

You can make your own creep feed using this mix from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

A simple mixture of 80-85% ground or cracked corn and 15-20% soybean meal, with free choice high quality alfalfa hay is a very palatable early creep ration.


Lamb creep feed can be palatable hay

You can also put a lamb friendly hay in the creep feeder, with or without the creep feed, as a way to keep the ewes off of some nicer hay that you want the lambs to start eating.

Hay will have to be refreshed daily, once they lay on it or worse yet, poop on it, it’s done and must be replaced.

creep feeder for lambs, metal, with lamb peeking around from the side, insets of "top open to fill" and "bar spacing options"
This is an indoor or outdoor creep feeder that we have in the barn right now after being used outside in one of the pastures all summer. It has shelled corn in the trough and the bars can be adjusted as the lambs grow, keeping in mind that too wide of a bar spacing lets in ewes!

Lambs that you might want to creep feed

Lambs that you might want to creep feed are any lambs that could use some extra weight and will be worth the extra money put into the creep feed.

This would be for any lambs born out of season, lambs with moms that are not milking well or lambs that you want to get to a roaster sized (chubby, 55 pounders) sooner than with just forage alone.

Be sure to do the math here, especially if you are using a purchased creep feed mix, it can get pricey!

Creep feeding in limited forage situations

Another situation where creep feeding may help you out is if your area tends to run out of good grazing before the lambs are done growing.

If you creep feed these lambs, they will have gotten used to the creep feed and the feeder by the time your forage is gone or of low quality so they can still keep eating and growing without digestive upsets.

We creep feed any young lambs that are in the barn. For us, being in the barn means they are either “surprise” late in the year lambs, bottle babies or lambs whose moms are not doing a good job.

All of these lambs could use a bit more help in getting calories and an easy way to do that is with creep feed.

Of course, the bottle lambs are by themselves (no ewes) so they do not need the creep gate or feeder, they just eat the creep feed out of a open topped hanging feeder or a pan.

Lambs that do not need creep feed

Lambs on a good pasture with plenty to eat and a good mom do not need to be creep fed, they have everything they need already.

You could creep feed these lambs, if for some reason you wanted to, but most folks would not, since these lambs are doing well, as is.

lamb going out of a homemade creep gate
This is our homemade creep gate, which keeps ewes out of a sectioned off area that has creep feed and usually some lamb friendly hay. The lambs like to go into the creep area to get snacks and have some relaxing space away from their moms. At first, it will take the lambs some time to find the feed, but once they do, they seem to get a kick out of going in and out of the area.

How to creep feed lambs

Generally, creep feed is put in a creep feeder, which is a space that the ewes can not get into.

Normally, the creep feeder has a gate with vertical slats that are set just wide enough for lambs, this keeps out the ewes, for the most part!

A creep feeder can be a small pen or wooden or metal box that only the lambs can get into, which is put inside a pen of ewes. Some creep feeders, like ours, can be used outside or inside.

The second type of creep feeder is more of a creep area, which is a fenced off corner of the main pen with a gate that only the lambs can get through the slots.

For more details on setting up the feeder itself, read my article Sheep Creep Feeder: What is it and why use one?

You can build your own creep feeder or creep gate, this is what we did for years, until we finally bought a metal creep feeder this year. The wooden creep gate we started with is pictured above.

When to start creep feeding lambs

Start creep feeding lambs when they are at a week old or younger.

This will give them time to explore the feeder and nibble around a little before they are old enough to pig out on it and upset their digestion.

If you have older lambs, be careful with the creep feed. Go slowly and give them small amounts that you gradually work up to the target intake amount.

Do not just fill the feeder and leave, that will be a mess. They will go in the creep feeder, suck it all down and end up sick, at the very least, dead at the worst. Work up gradually or do not creep feed, at all.

When to stop creep feeding

You can stop creep feeding anytime you feel that the lambs do not need the special “lamb only” feed anymore.

Many sheep farmers stop creep feeding because the lambs have grown enough to be able to eat the same hay as their moms.

Once the lambs are old enough to be weaned, you no longer need to keep the ewes out of the lamb’s feed since the ewes will be in a separate area.

Don’t stop the creep feed at weaning, that’s too much change in an already stressful time. Keep up with creep feeding, at least until you see that weaning went well, then taper them off the creep, if you need to.

However or whyever you decide to stop creep feeding, do so gradually. Slowly reduce the amount of creep feed or gradually start to transition the lambs over to a different ration. Emphasis on slowly!

Sheep 101 answers the question Should I Creep Feed My Lambs? emphasizing the importance of figuring out if creep feeding is economical for your situation.

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