Creep feeding and yard weaning lambs (2/3)

All this week on Table Talk we will be discussing the topic of early weaning.

A recommended management strategy during drought is early weaning of stock as it has the ability to simplify management, reduce feed costs and improve animal condition. As such, this week we are focusing on early weaning, with a focus on lambs and ewes.

Our first post concentrated on four key questions when considering early weaning: 1) What are the benefits of early weaning? 2) What are the critical management considerations? 3) How early is early? and 4) What ration is recommended? Access the post here.

Today, we will look at creep feeding as an alternative to early weaning and the use of yard weaning as a strategy. Tomorrow we will focus on bringing the latest research results to you on the topic.

What is creep feeding?

Rather than early weaning, we can utilise creep feeding as an alternative in difficult seasons. Government of Western Australia notes this alternative is especially important when the lambs are too young or weak to early-wean from their mothers. It involves lamb access to high energy and protein supplements while they are still with their mothers. Creep feeders are enclosures constructed to allow lamb access to the feed, but they do not allow a ewe to access. The benefits of flexible ewe management discussed in our first post are not realised in this option, but many other benefits are still relevant.

The enclosures have vertical bars at spacings to allow access for the lambs but at spacings that are too narrow for the ewes. Further security for the feed can be provided by placing a horizontal bar at a height taller than the lambs, but smaller than the height of the ewes (Government of Western Australia)

We quite like this video from Advantage Feeders that gives a great overview of creep feeding and its benefits. It uses panel system for lambs, rather than gates:

Government of Western Australia provide the following tips for creep feeding:

  • ‘Training’ the lambs to accept the feed is hastened by feeding some of the pellets initially in a trail with their mothers. The lambs will learn to recognise the pellets as a feed source much earlier if their mothers show them.
  • The creep feeder should be placed near the main campsite of the flock (and/or near the trail feed area for the ewes) so the lambs have constant access to the feeder. It is important to continue to supplement the ewes while creep feeding the lambs, as the lambs will still be obtaining some milk from their mothers.
  • There may be some risk of soil erosion around the creep feeder, so gravel may need to be applied around the base of the feeder.
  • Creep feeding provides an alternative management strategy for feeding small, young or weak lambs and also assists the ewes by reducing the energy demands of the lambs.

Examples of different creep feeding systems are shown below.

Government of Western Australia
O’Donnell Engineering
Premier 1 Supplies
Wind D Acres

Can I yard wean lambs?

Livestock consultant, Tiffany Bennett, introduces the benefits to yard weaning in this Sheep Connect SA article.

The key benefits from her discussion include:

  • Yard weaning helps to reduce impacts of a stressful weaning and therefore the issues that arise such as weight loss, deaths and tender wool.
  • Weaners lose less weight and continue to grow, settle quickly, learn to be handled better and respect fences.
  • Yard weaning may also provide an opportunity to wean early in dry years and manage the high nutritional requirements when early weaning lambs.

Bennett‘s key tips for management of yard weaning include:

  • Aim to wean merinos at about 18kg and crossbreds at about 20kg.
  • Weaners will do better in a yard weaning situation if they are closer to 12 weeks of age and it is best to wean based on liveweight rather than age.
  • Requires careful planning and management
  • Plan adequate trough and feeder space.
  • If you have set feeding times ensure that there is 10-15cm/head trough space or 2-3.5 cm/head if you have an adlib self-feeder or lick feeder.
  • Ensure you allow 1.5cm water trough space per lamb.
  • Essential that the lambs are imprint fed whilst still on the ewes.
  • Mineral supplements are useful to optimise the lamb’s nutritional requirements.
  • Adding salt and limestone to grain based diets is essential.
  • Ensure that all lambs have been drenched and vaccinated.
  • Remove ewes to as far away as possible from the yards, and run a dozen or so older wethers with the lambs.
  • Use the yard weaning process to get the lambs accustomed to humans and dogs, if you use dogs.

An MLA producer demonstration site was set up in Rokewood in Victoria. Check out their experience below:

Tomorrow, we will have a look through some specific research and trials results focused on early weaning of lambs.