Sheep Creep Feeder: What Is It And Why Use One?


lambs in a creep feeding area

You’ve probably heard about using a creep feeder for your sheep, specifically your lambs. What is a creep feeder and why would you want to use one?

A creep feeder is a lambs only area with free choice, high energy feed, usually a grain mix and a very palatable hay, that are fed to help lambs grow faster. Small, lamb sized openings in the access gate allow lambs to go in and out but are too small for the ewes. A creep feeder can be a free standing unit or a sectioned off area of the sheep pen.

Age of lambsCreep feed needed
10 days and older18.5% lamb creep feed, fed free choice
10 days and olderfree choice very palatable hay
by weaning.5 pounds per head per day and unlimited very palatable hay
20 lambs by weaningPer day: 10 pounds for the group
Per week: 70 pounds for the group
unlimited very palatable hay

How Many Bales Of Hay Do Sheep Need? will help you figure out your hay needs for your flock.

A creep feeder is a lambs only area with special lamb feed

A creep feeder is an area that the lambs can go into for special “lambs only” food, usually grain and hay, that the ewes can not get into.

The access to the creep feeder has holes that are too small for the ewes to fit through, so the ewes are kept out of the creep feeder by their larger body size.

Generally there are two types of creep feeders, one is a free standing feeder that holds the feed and has a fence around it too keep the ewes out of the feed. This feeder looks like a little coop or shed.

lamb running through a creep gate panel
This is our creep gate, you can see I spooked one of the lambs and it’s running for mom! This is the same creep area shown in the first picture, with the feed being in the upper right hand part of the creep area hanging on that back gate. (The only purpose of the back gate is the feeder.)

The second type of creep feeder is really a creep gate that restricts access to an area of the pen that has the lamb feed. This is the type of creep feeder that we have, a homemade creep gate across a stall on the side of the sheep pen.

If we wanted to have creep feed available to lambs in a big, open pen or out on the pasture (where there is not a handy area to section off) we would need to use the free standing creep feeder.

Actually, we looked into these but so far they do not make economical sense for us.

Currently the free standing lamb creep feeders are over $500 each and accommodate 25 lambs. For us, those numbers don’t work out. Too bad, since those look like great little creep feeders.

We are creep feeding a special group of off season lambs

Why are we creep feeding lambs, anyway?

We have a small group of lambs on a creep feeder right now, March 2021. For these few early lambers, we have them in the barn and the lambs have access to a creep feed in the creep area.

The reason we are creep feeding at all is that these lambs will be ready to market in a high competition time, meaning they need to be really nice and well grown.

Starting these lambs off with creep feeder makes sure we get the results we need from this group. The plan for this group of lambs is to market them at 80-100 pounds in early to mid July.

That’s a lot of weight to put on in a short amount of time. It’s doable, but to do that we need to feed accordingly.

Most of our lambs are sold from late December through March. These lambs would be born in May and spend all summer on pasture with their moms. This is how the vast majority of our lambs are raised.

The plan is that the May born lambs bring more money, since the supply is lower at this time, but it requires keeping and feeding the lambs longer than most folks are willing to do.

With these 20 early lambs, the plan is different since the situation is different, hence the decision to provide them creep feed.

Why You Shouldn’t Keep Bottle Lambs As Breeding Stock goes over the main reasons why your cute little bottle lambs are a poor choice for replacements ewes or worse yet, rams!

Creep feed provides additional energy to lambs

Creep feed and the creep area provide a lambs only snack area. This gives the lambs the opportunity to eat a high energy snack anytime they want to.

It also gives the lambs a place to relax. We see lambs in the creep area that are just hanging out.

The important part here is not only that the creep feed is high energy, but that it is available whenever the lamb decides it could use a snack.

Having feed always available means that there is little to no competition between the lambs for the feed. If the feeder is “busy” the lamb can stop back later and still get a snack.

If you only feed once in a while, lambs that are late to eat, don’t eat!

close up of lamb creep feed, being held  in my hand
This is the lamb creep feed that we are using. It is 18.5% protein.

Creep feeding allows lambs to wean earlier

One of the main reasons we are creep feeding the early born lambs is to give them a jump start on growth.

This will help in a number of ways:

  1. Early gains are more efficient, so it takes less feed per pound of gain to put weight on younger lambs
  2. Lambs getting supplemental feed will not have to rely on the ewe so much, this makes her able to breed back sooner, moving her from a frigid weather lamber to a fall weather lamber! That is a ton easier on us!
  3. If the mom is a first timer, especially those under 1 year old, then she still has some growing left to do herself. Creep feeding takes some of the burden of raising the lambs off of the younger ewes so they can get back into good body condition sooner.
  4. Creep feed will make up for any low milking ewes. Since we are doing extra work with all of the lambs in the barn, we want good results from all of them and are using creep feeding to help any poor performers. We’d rather not have the poor performers to begin with, but once they are in the barn slow growers still need care, so we creep feed to reduce the likelihood of slow growers.

Creep feed is feed for lambs only

The key to a creep feed working is that the ewes are kept out! Don’t kid yourself here, the ewes know that feed is in there and would love to shinny through the creep gate and scarf down that creep feed.

This makes sense, you’ve got really great stuff in there and those ewes know it!

Keep the creep feed at the back of the creep area and in a container of some sort that the lambs can not move around the pen.

Eventually the container will get to moved around to where the ewes can stick their heads through the creep gate holes and eat all the feed!

Metal creep gate openings are adjustable for your sheep

The metal creep gates are adjustable. You want the opening big enough for the lambs, but that’s it. Openings in the creep gate that are too big will let in your smaller ewes.

You’ll have to watch and see how resourceful your ewes are and how willing they are to push their way into the creep area.

Some ewes are more motivated to get the creep feed than others

I have seen a sheep farm that had a pipe gate up a foot or so off of the ground that was being used as a creep feeder for the lambs.

My first thought was, “what a great idea” followed quickly by “my sheep would never stay out of that”. I was shocked that those ewes didn’t just crawl right under it!

The reason I’m telling you this is that you have to make sure the creep area you set up works for your sheep. Mine would get under that pipe gate in no time. But those ewes didn’t even try, so it worked at that farm with those sheep.

Introduce creep feed when lambs are 10 days old

Have the creep feed and creep area set up as soon as your lambs are 10 days old. Sooner than 10 days is fine, if you have the space available.

You want them to find it when they are old enough to be curious to go in and maybe try a bite or two, but young enough to not pig out the first day and make themselves sick.

As long as the creep area is dry and inviting, the lambs will eventually get curious enough to go in there and see what its all about.

If your lambs don’t take to it in the first few days, don’t worry. They’ll find it. All you need is one then the rest will want to see what the first one has discovered.

Lambs eat 6-8 pounds of creep feed per 20 head per day

At first the lambs will just be picking around at the creep feed. This is why you want the creep feed in with them early, to take advantage of their curiosity.

As the lambs get bigger they will start to actually eat the feed rather than just poke around at it.

Our lambs are eating 6-8 pounds of creep feed per day, with 20 lambs in this group. That works out to between .3 and .4 pounds of creep feed each.

This article from Virginia Tech specifies a target intake of .5 pounds per lamb per day at a minimum.

I mention this because, to me, us feeding .3-.4 pounds of creep feed per lamb per day seems high, but it is actually a bit under the optimal intake per lamb.

Feed lamb creep feed for 8-10 weeks

You want to keep feeding the creep feed until the lambs are grow enough that they can eat well with the ewes or on their own and are able to be weaned at 8-10 weeks.

If the lambs are staying in with the ewes, lambs need to not only be able to hold their own at the feeder, but also be able to digest the hay that the ewes are getting and maintain their fast growth rate before you take away their source of easy calories.

If you want to reduce creep feed that you are buying you can change the creep feed to a formula for older lambs, or stop feeding the extra grain and just give a nice hay in the creep feeder.

Creep feed for lambs is 18.5% protein initially

The first creep feed you put into the feeder should be a lamb specific formulation at 18.5% protein.

As the lambs grow and learn to eat the creep, you can “dilute” the creep feed with corn (or another grain available in your area) to reduce the cost of creep feeding the group.

Add shelled corn to the creep mix to lower feed costs

We start adding shelled corn to the creep mix as soon as the lambs start nibbling on the mix.

The purpose of the shelled corn is to make the creep ration cost less. Work up to a 50:50 blend of shelled corn and purchased creep feed, then work on eliminating the creep mix and going with just shelled corn.

Our lambs are about 1.5 months old now and actually prefer the shelled corn, they dig it out of the mix! Don’t start with shelled corn, the kernels are too big. You can add the corn in quickly, once the lambs get the idea.

If you like using the purchased creep mix, super. Don’t bother with adding the shelled corn.

We add the corn to lower feeding costs, that’s it. If we were happy with the price of the purchased creep feed, we wouldn’t bother with the corn and just feed the creep mix straight.

Right now a 100# bag of lamb creep feed costs us $23.95 and shelled corn is $8.60/100 pounds (we bought this corn from a local farmer) so going with half shelled corn is really lowering the price of the creep feed for us.

Weaned lambs still need the extra energy from feed

Don’t eliminate the creep idea or the lambs will slow down their growth. Once the lambs are weaned they still will get the grain, it’s just not called creep feeding anymore since there are no ewes to be kept out of it.

At this point, it would just be the weaned lambs’ normal ration.

To repeat myself, the lambs have a nice palatable hay in the creep feeder at all times, no matter what creep feed (if any) is being used.

It can be easy to forget about the hay in the creep area, but be sure to include it to help the lambs develop their digestive system so they can easily transition to a more adult diet containing more forages.

Creep feed helps lambs grow faster

The purpose of creep feed for lambs is to help them grow faster by providing additional energy that they are not able to get from hanging out with mom and eating the hay that she eats.

Of course a lactating ewe will be getting nice hay, but sometimes lambs need a place to go and hang out where they don’t have to out compete the ewes for the nicest bites.

A good creep feed is high energy and palatable

A good creep feed for lambs will be a high energy feed that is easy for the lambs to eat, this means both tasty and easy for them to get it in their mouths.

We use a specifically formulated lamb creep feed that we get from the feed mill. It reminds me of a sweet feed for horses, lots of different pieces and you can smell the molasses as soon as you open the bag. The lambs love it!

You are not limited to grains for creep feed. Any really nice, palatable hay would work great in a creep feeder, as well. Just remember, it has to be attractive to the lambs and easy for them to eat.

Last year we had some wowzer western alfalfa we bought from a local dairy farmer. Nice was an understatement! We put this stuff in the lamb creep feeder, they chowed down on it!

Sometimes straight alfalfa can be a stiff hay, but this stuff was super and quite the favorite of the lambs. Any great hay will do for the creep feeder, just make sure it’s really nice stuff.

Pro Tip: put in small amount of hay at a time and refresh it daily. If you put in a few days worth of really nice hay, they will poop on it rather than eating it! Or worse yet, poop on it and then eat it, double yikes! Far better to refill.

All lambs do not need creep feed

You should know that lambs do not need creep feed, especially lambs out on pasture with their moms. Creep feeding is a management option but not mandatory. Biologically, lambs do not need grain, they just need high energy feed.

We normally do not creep feed lambs, only off season ones whose moms don’t have good grass to eat.

When lambs have plenty of grass and plenty of milk from mom, creep feed would not be of much help as far as increasing their growth rate.

If however, your pasture is lacking or non existent, like in the winter, providing some sort of creep feed for the lambs will help them get more energy without the ewes pigging down all of the super nice hay before the lambs can get to it.

For us, any lambs born in the winter get access to a creep feeder since their moms are inside, as well.

This is always a small group for us, this year 14 whoops (surprise pregnancy) ewes that had lambs born in late January to mid February, so it’s pretty easy to set up the creep area and buy the feed for this group.

Creep feeding the main group would be a completely different story, actually it would be difficult to make it happen and costly because of the size of the flock.

The main flock lambs outside starting in May and they do not get any creep feed at all.

They have the wonderful spring grass so the lambs and their moms have plenty of great feed to eat and do not need the supplemental energy of creep feeding.

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