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Creep Feeding Lambs

Updated March 17, 2023

Kelly Froehlich

Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist

Flock of newborn lambs in a barn.
Providing lambs with creep and fresh, clean water while nursing can promote early rumen development, which supports early growth and weaning. Courtesy: Canva

Creep provides young lambs with a concentrated (energy/protein) feed while nursing with the value of facilitating the development and functioning of a lamb’s digestive system, accelerating growth. At birth, lambs have an immature digestive system; milk is shunted past the first stomachs to the abomasum for nutrient digestion and absorption. To become a mature, and functioning ruminant capable of utilizing roughage feeds, lambs must undergo a huge transition, shifting nutrient digestion and absorption from the abomasum to the rumen. This transition takes place with the introduction of solid feed and water. Earlier introduction of feed and water accelerates this transition, and, therefore, promotes early lamb growth and weaning.

Promotion of rumen development is a multi-faceted process, but providing creep is one essential ingredient, delivering easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins. The easily digestible carbohydrates and protein in creep feed initiates end-fermentation essential for papillae development, stimulation of growth (size) and muscular action of the rumen. In addition, creep establishes a flourishing population of beneficial rumen bacteria needed for successful rumen fermentation of feedstuffs.

A second essential ingredient to rumen development is water. Water also promotes a flourishing population of beneficial bacteria and drives dry matter intake. Both functions are essential for the facilitation of rumen development. Therefore, the value of creep cannot be emphasized without the emphasis of fresh, clean water. In addition, the promotion of water can help facilitate the transition during weaning.

Nutrient Requirements

Creep should be made up of highly digestible carbohydrates (sugar and starches) and protein. As a young lamb does not have a developed rumen, they do not have the capability to digest complex carbohydrates found in roughage type feeds. A typical creep should contain at least 18 to 20% protein. In general, higher-protein feeds support higher average daily gains with the tradeoff of higher feed cost and potential wastage of protein in urine and feces of lambs. However, providing a good-quality creep by 1 to 2 weeks of age ensures a good start. As the lamb ages and the rumen develops, protein requirements decrease and can be reduced to save on feed costs.

    Encouraging Creep Consumption

    Several lambs gathered under a lighted feeding area.
    Lambs are attracted to comfortable areas. Hanging lights in a creep area often encourages them to visit and eat.

    To encourage the consumption of creep in young lambs, providing an inviting and comfortable facility is key. Highlighted below are key recommendations to help encourage and invite lambs to a creep area.

    • Safe Space
      Providing a comfortable and ‘safe’ space. This means a clean, well-bedded area close to where ewes congregate, with multiple openings.
    • Lighting
      Having natural or artificial light in the creep area will help attract lambs to the pen. Sheep/lambs are less likely to enter a dark, unknown corner or pen.
    • Fresh Feed
      Creep feed should be kept fresh! Lambs will consume little feed in the beginning, so only a little bit should be offered and replaced often.
    • Fresh Water
      Water drives dry matter intake; keeping fresh, clean water can help promote creep consumption.
    • Solid Design
      A solid creep feeder design will prevent lambs from lying or playing in the feeder. This helps with keeping the feed fresh and ensures that the feeders is designed to do what it is supposed to—feed lambs.

    Lastly, adequate creep space needs to be provided to reduce and eliminate competition and encourage all lambs to consume creep. According to the Midwest plan service handbook, 1.5 to 2 square-feet of creep space and 2 inches of feed bunk space should be provided to lambs under 30 pounds. Creep panel openings should have 8-to-10 inch space openings that can be adjustable depending on the lamb size.

    In Summary

    Providing lambs with creep and fresh, clean water while nursing can help promote early rumen development, which supports early growth and weaning. It is important when providing creep that it contains easily digestible carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and proteins, and the design of the creep area is comfortable and adequate for lamb’s needs to reduce competition and encourage feed consumption.


    • Flatt, W., R. Warner, and J. Loosli. 1958. Influence of purified materials on the development of the ruminant stomach. J Dairy Sci41(11):1593-1600.
    • Kertz, A. F., L. F. Reutzel, and J. H. Mahoney. 1984. Ad libitum water intake by neonatal calves and its relationship to calf starter intake, weight gain, feces score, and season. J Dairy Sci 67(12):2964-2969.
    • MWPS. 1994. Sheep housing and equipment handbook. 4th ed. Midwest Plan Service.
    • NRC. 2007. Nutrient requirements of small ruminants. 6th rev. ed. Natl. Acad. Press, Washington, DC.