What A Creep February 11 2017, 0 Comments

There's a creep in the barn, and I'm not just talking about me. A creep is a pen with a special gate that allows young lambs to enter and keeps their gluttonous mothers out. I'm not sure why it's called a creep. Lambs don't creep. They don't crawl, slither, or move particularly slowly. Regardless how it got the name, setting one up is good practice for farms both large and small.

Lamb in a Creep

A creep doesn't need to be fancy. Most shepherds cordon off a section of the main area, but a creep can be located in the pasture too. The most important part is the gate. The opening needs to be widened as the lambs grow. Commercial gates have adjustable openings and even rollers. They need to be strong too, because the ewes will push and stick their heads in. I use a conveniently adjoining pen for my creep, and the gate is just a series of slats set in the doorway.

Slatted Entrance to the Creep
As the lambs grow, I move the middle slats to the sides to create a single center opening.

Creep feeding is a business strategy, especially for larger sheep farmers. It is generally more economical to feed the lamb directly rather than to feed its mother for milk production. Simply put, creep feeding allows for earlier weaning, and better conditioned lambs. It also takes pressure off the lactating ewes and enables them to re-build fat reserves sooner. Growing lambs are fed between .5 pound to 1 pound of high protein (18% to 20%) grain per day. Depending on the production plan, weaning generally occurs at 6 months when lambs weigh around 45 or 50 pounds.

Things aren't nearly as calculated and scientific here on our hobby farm. We let our lambs wean naturally because we don't have extensive separation facilities and divided pasture space. It's alot less stressful for the animals (and their shepherds) to keep the whole flock together. It would be nice to get the lambs off their mothers earlier, but nature takes care of things pretty well on its own. A ewe's milk production drops dramatically after around 8 weeks.

EzWean Nosering for Lambs
EZWean ring, ewes and lambs stay together. It allows for unrestricted grazing while facilitating a stress-free weaning.

An Australian company (Easy Wean) makes an easy-on/easy-off plastic "nose ring" device for lambs which has proven quite successful worldwide. Little points on the ring make nursing uncomfortable for the ewe, so the lamb's attempts are gradually rejected. It stays on for a few weeks, accomplishing the weaning while allowing the ewes and lambs to remain together. It looks a little strange, but supposedly it does work.

Kids Hanging Out With the Lambs
Kids love lambs, and the creep pen is their own personal petting zoo.

On our farm, creep feeding is just a good way to give our lambs extra supplement and conditioning before an all grass-fed summer. It's also an important sanctuary area from the main flock. As soon as the new lambs (and their mothers) are introduced into the combined living area, they gravitate almost immediately to the creep as a quiet refuge. I like to keep it lighted as well. It's a clean, comfortable, inviting place to be. If I'm bottle supplementing, that also takes place in the creep. The best thing about the creep however is that it gives our children a special place to hang out with the lambs! Our youngest can spend an hour or more in there just visiting with her little friends. Super cute.

Yes, there's a creep in our barn, but it's one we all like having around!