Creep feeding lambs adds to the cost of production, but for farmers chasing higher lamb prices from the early market and saving grass for stock throughout the summer, the economics of concentrate feeding can stack up.

Farmers targeting early sales can recoup their investment in supplementary feeding by selling when supply is tighter and prices are higher. With prices currently at record highs for lamb throughout the country, farmers certainly don’t want to miss out this year.

The Scottish Farmer: Andrew Redpath, regional sales manager at Carr’s BillingtonAndrew Redpath, regional sales manager at Carr’s Billington (Image: web)

Andrew Redpath, regional sales manager at Carr’s Billington said: “It is a cost-effective way to grow lambs. It gets mouths off farm as quickly as possible to save grass for other stock through the summer and give ewes a better chance and more time to recover before tupping time comes back around.”

Agreeing with these statements was sales and marketing manager at Davidsons Animal Feeds, Steven Turnbull: “Fewer days on farm is always a bonus. Getting lambs to grow quicker and be finished at an optimal time when there is normally a premium due to low numbers being forward is another key benefit.

The Scottish Farmer: Sales and marketing manager at Davidsons Animal Feeds, Steven TurnbullSales and marketing manager at Davidsons Animal Feeds, Steven Turnbull (Image: web)

“Offering a complementary creep feed will see lambs achieve a better cover and subsequently grade better resulting in more profit for the farmer,” he added.

What are the key minerals found in a good quality feed?

“Major minerals like calcium, magnesium and sodium are a requirement for bone and muscle growth, while trace elements and vitamins like copper, cobalt, selenium and vitamin E are for development and to support a strong immune system,” said Andrew.

Steven added: “A high level of vitamin E and a quality source of protected selenium such as Alkosel are important for lamb immunity and health. Vitamin B is also important for energy metabolism and so vitamin B12 and vitamin B1 should be added. Ammonium chloride for the prevention on urinary calculi is vital.”

When should they be offered to lambs?

“The quicker the better; conversion rates are at their best when animals are youngest. As they get bigger, their conversion rates slow,” explained Andrew.

What feed conversion rate should they be doing?

“Feed conversions rates can vary hugely with so many variables, breed of lamb, age, condition, environmental factors and forage,” said Steven.

Andrew added: “Generally, lambs should be looking to grow at 200g DLWG per kg of creep feed (conversion rate of 5:1).”

Is it worth the money?

“It has never been so cost effective to creep feed lambs. I would suggest that anyone lambing commercial ewes in February or March should be looking to do this,” said Steven, with current lamb prices at record highs.

“For 1kg of feed you ’re talking 32p. Lambs at £4 per kg would give you 80p per 200g, a 80p gain from spending 30p, so 50p margin.

“Where else can you make that on an investment,” said Andrew.

“Even at £3 per kg you would be getting a margin of 30p. With all the other benefits of getting lambs away quick, ewes return to condition better and many customers have seen increases in lambing % due to creep feeding lambs.

“Its not the risk it once was when the market dropped massively around Highland Show time – there hasn’t been the drop in the last three or four years so farmers can creep with confidence,” added Andrew.

How have raw materials, fuel and other key factors fluctuated in the last year?

“We have seen a massive fluctuation in key farm inputs in the past few years with agricultural inflation reaching more than 30% at one point,” said Andrew.

“Inputs have not returned to historic levels but feed, fertiliser and fuel have settled to more manageable levels again.

“Feed is back around £60 per tonne compared with the peak prices and fertiliser prices have returned to normal levels.”

Are there any alternatives to creep feeding lambs?

“It all depends on the system and farm – some creep feed lambs through gates onto young grass,” said Andrew.

“Feeding the ewes after lambing can have huge benefits to lamb growth rates. Ewes nursing twins have a similar energy requirement to a dairy cow producing 7000 litres of milk, which is very difficult to achieve off grass alone.

“Nutrition is key. Whatever system you run will become more and more relevant with reduction of antibiotic use. The correct nutrition will be key, from feeding the ewe, wormer use, minerals supplied etc,” he added.

Steven stated: “There are no viable alternatives that can replace the performance that creeping young lambs achieves – it really is a no-brainer.”

Are there any health risks to be aware of?

“There is a risk of urinary calculi if the ration does not contain the correct levels of ammonium chloride, so it is important to check what is in the feed,” said Steven.

“Home mixing using barley or wheat as the primary starch source can lead to acidosis if not balanced properly –creeping with blend can also lead to the lambs sorting and being selective of a particular raw material which can again cause issues,” he added.

Andrew went on to say: “Clean water and forage must be offered at all times and never let creeps get empty. Bloat from overfeeding or gorging can occur if creeps are not topped up.”

Any other overall comments on creep feeding lambs?

“I think creep feeding is as cost-effective as ever and is a serious option to maximise profits,” said Andrew.

“I think creeping singles is as important as twins as these lambs can really hit that early market when prices are at their highest. Many farmers think it’s a waste to creep feed singles as they are always first to go anyway but in current markets, it will still pay.”

Steven added: “Using a top-quality, well-balanced, high-energy compound which includes a top spec vitamin and mineral package will ensure the lambs genetic growth potential is achieved. You only sell a lamb once so it is vital you maximise the return by aiming to achieve a good weight and well-finished carcass.”