What A Creep
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 but 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 of how it got the name, setting one up is good practice for farms both large and small.
A creep doesn't need to be fancy. Most shepherds cordon off a section of the main pen 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.
Somebody has been visiting the feeding creep a lot!
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 which 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 can occur in as few as 60 days.
Things aren't nearly as calculated and scientific here on our farm. We let our lambs wean naturally because we don't have extensive separation facilities and divided pasture space. It's a lot 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 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. I've never used it, but it has proven 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 still allowing the ewes and lambs to remain together. It looks a little strange, but supposedly it does work.
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 from the busy main pen area. I like to keep it lighted as well when the lambs are very young. It's just a clean, comfortable place to be. If I'm bottle supplementing lambs, that also takes place in the creep. But the best thing about the creep is that it gives little kids 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!