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Sheep Update

Livestock Update, February 2000

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Virginia Tech

Creep Feeding Lambs
Creep feeding young lambs while still nursing the ewe can provide valuable supplemental weight gain. This added weight gain has the most economic value for lambs managed in an intensive, early weaning production system where lambs will be maintained in a dry-lot. Conversely, for lambs that will be developed on pasture throughout the spring and summer, creep feeding would be of less value due to the relative expense of this early weight gain (which may be later attained on forage). Creep feeding also is beneficial for flocks with a high number of multiple births, or flocks with ewes having limited milk production.

Young lambs may be started on creep feed as early as 10 days of age. Although significant amounts of feed are normally not consumed until 3 to 4 weeks of age, providing access to creep feed at an early age allows lambs to develop a habit of eating dry feed, and helps stimulate rumen development. For creep feeding to be economical, lambs must consume enough feed to increase performance. Lambs should eat a minimum of .5 pounds of creep feed per head per day from 20 days of age to weaning.

Intake of creep feed is influenced by the design of the creep area as well as the feed provided. The creep area should be kept dry and well bedded. Place the creep in a high-traffic area where lambs will naturally find their way into it. The creep area should be large enough that the majority of the lambs may be in it at any one time. Observation of the traffic patterns of the ewes and lambs will help identify an ideal location. A light in the creep area will help attract lambs into the creep. Creep gates should provide spaces between 8 to 12 inches to allow lambs in but keep ewes out. Creep gates with rollers allow larger lambs through a smaller space. A small used tire can also be used as a creep gate.

The creep ration need not be expensive or complex. Of critical importance is that the feed be kept fresh and dry. Replace the feed in the creep daily. Old creep feed may be given to the ewe flock. Utilize covered feeders that minimize contamination from lambs standing or playing in the feeder. Young lambs are very sensitive to what they eat, and will not consume stale or contaminated feed.

The principle behind creep feeding is to stimulate lambs to eat and therefore promote weight gain. Therefore, highly palatable feeds must be provided. At a young age, lambs prefer feeds that are finely ground and have a small particle size. Feedstuffs high in palatability for young lambs include soybean meal, ground corn, sweet feeds, and alfalfa hay. These feeds should be replaced daily to keep fresh. A simple mixture of 80% to 85% ground or cracked corn and 15% to 20% soybean meal, with free choice high quality alfalfa hay is a very palatable early creep ration. The feed being fed to the ewes may also be included free choice in the creep feeder. Early in the creep feeding period, stimulating intake is of primary concern. These diets should be formulated to contain 20% crude protein.

As the lambs get to 4 to 6 weeks of age and older, coarser feeds become more palatable. Providing feeds early will enhance the lambs' acceptance to these coarser feeds. As the lamb gets older, intakes and growth rates should increase. Additionally, the proportion of the gain that is derived from dry feed vs. milk increases. During this time, lambs may be gradually switched to a complete pelleted ration or a ration containing cracked corn and supplement. Over time, the ration should be changed to represent what will be fed once the lamb is weaned. Complete feeds are available commercially, which can be convenient yet expensive. Pelleted supplements to be mixed with cracked corn are generally cheaper, and are also widely available. At weaning, protein requirements of lambs drop to 15% to 16%. An advantage of the complete feeds and protein supplements is that they are fortified with antibiotics, vitamins, and minerals which are important for lamb health and performance. Lambs should be vaccinated with Clostridium Perfringens C & D to prevent overeating disease prior to weaning at 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Bill Stephenson Named Roy A. Meek Outstanding Sheep Producer
Bill Stephenson of Luray, Va., was named the recipient of the Roy A. Meek Outstanding Sheep Producer Award presented January 7, 2000, at the Virginia/North Carolina Shepherd's Symposium held in Harrisonburg, Va. This award is presented annually by the Virginia Sheep Producers Association to recognize an outstanding sheep producer in the state.

Stephenson has served as president of the Rockingham Sheep and Wool Association for the past five years and is in his second three-year term as a member of the Board of Directors. As president, he has taken very seriously his role in guiding the association through some trying times in relation to changes in the wool marketing program in Virginia and at the local level. His leadership has helped producers keep many of the issues in proper perspective when discussing these challenges. As wool marketing becomes of less importance economically to association members, Stephenson is working with the local board and sheep specialist in seeking potential lamb marketing options that may help provide a more consistent price structure for lambs throughout the year.

Stephenson is also serving as a founding member of the Virginia Sheep Industry Board as they make decisions in disseminating checkoff dollars for predator control efforts, research, and education.

As a sheep producer, Stephenson began in 1980 with 15 commercial ewes and grew to a flock of 112. In 1992, he learned that his flock was diagnosed with scrapie. Stephenson's dedication and love for the sheep industry allowed him to persevere through these tough times. He enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program, and having properly disposed of the infected flock began building a new one. Stephenson was determined to meet the goals of the program, and recently acquired certified status for his flock. Working through the VSFCP, his purebred Suffolk flock of 34 ewes achieved this status after seven years of work. Stephenson has found steady demand from other producers for his certified scrapie-free ewe and ram lambs.

When visiting the sheep facilities he has built, one is impressed with the design and simplicity for the handling, sorting, and lambing of his flock. Stephenson has organized things so one person can easily handle all of the necessary operations. He learned early the importance of "good help," and has been utilizing and training border collies for several years and is active in local, regional, and national sheep dog trials.

Sheep Industry Assistance Package Announced
On July 7, 1999, President Clinton announced his decision on the sheep industry's 201 trade case against the surge of cheap lamb meat imports from Australia and New Zealand. He imposed three years of tariffs on imports from those countries and pledged $100 million in assistance to the industry. In the five full months (Aug.-Dec. 1999) after tariffs were imposed in mid-July, imports from Australia and New Zealand dropped 38% compared to the same five months in 1998, according to US Department of Commerce figures.

Details of the assistance package were released by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on January 13. The plan makes $50 million available during the first year and an additional $50 million during the second and third years for production improvements, market promotion, animal health and domestic purchases. Here is how the funds will be spent -

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