Our newborn lambs begin their exposure to grain and alfalfa at a very young age. Their digestion of these foods doesn’t really happen in a very efficient manner until they are about six weeks old, but that process is dependent upon early exposure, so within days of birth, they have access to unlimited quantities of a high quality grain blend and fresh, leafy second- or third-cutting alfalfa hay.
Over the years, we have changed our grain blend from a commercially available product put out by Land-O-Lakes to one that is blended specifically for us by our local grain mill. When we first began to creep feed our lambs, we used a pelleted ration, and it worked OK. At some point, we accidentally got the exact same product in a “texturized” form, with obvious different grains and pellets that were blended to create the overall product. Since my grain dealer assured me that it was “the same,” I tried feeding it to our lambs, and they loved it! With my next purchase, I bought one bag of each to do a comparison study with our lambs. In a very short time, I came to realize that our lambs much prefer texturized feed to pelleted feed – even when it contained identical nutrients – and we made the switch.
We used that same texturized product for years with good success. Eventually, however, I decided to go looking for something better. I had several issues with the product our lambs were getting. First, I didn’t like that it was medicated. Our lambs didn’t eat enough of it for the medication to actually prevent coccidia, so it was my fear that the coccidia they normally carried (since all sheep carry some level of coccidia) would become resistant to treatment after lengthy exposure. My other issue was that the blend also contained a fairly large number of pellets that the lambs would eat around and leave for last. Finally, we also needed to feed our ewes some type of high energy grain blend during late gestation and lactation, and I was hoping that I could use the same blend for the ewes as the lambs, simply adding some amount of corn when feeding the ewes. This would mean that when the lambs were weaned, we wouldn’t have ewe grain left over and wasted; I could simply use the grain they didn’t eat for the lambs.
I was hoping to put together a creep feed that the lambs would eat all of equally well, that didn’t contain the undesirable medication, and that we could combine with an equal amount of corn for our ewe blend. I went to my local feed mill two years ago, and we came up with a blend that contains rolled or cracked corn, 40% lamb pellets, molasses, soy oil, black oil sunflower seeds, all stock pellets (a blend put together by my mill), bi-carb, and Diamond V XPC Yeast. The final ingredient came from a recommendation by my shearer who had heard great things about digestion in ruminants who had been fed this yeast, so we thought we would try it. Last year’s lambs loved the new blend and reflected weight gains better than we had ever seen – much better than could be expected from only genetic improvement or a difference in that year’s grazing quality. I could only think that the faster lamb gains must have had to do with the addition of the yeast to all of their diets. We are watching this year’s lambs closely to see whether we see the same type of growth and gain in them, too., and also next year’s ewe fleeces, but it seems now that the Diamond V yeast is a permanent part of our ration.
Even better, by adding equal amounts by weight of corn, we have also created a ration for our ewes. It provides them with a bit more protein than they need, but the advantage to us is that I can buy the grain blend in bulk, then add very inexpensive corn, as needed, for the ewes. We stop feeding grain to the ewes at weaning (and we wouldn’t want to give them any past this point, as it will cause them to take much longer to dry up their milk), while the lambs are still getting creep feed for another few weeks, so any grain left at that point is fed out to the lambs after weaning. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and the lambs stop getting grain – but we no longer have to worry about grain meant for the ewes going bad in the heat of the summer. We simply use up what we have in the spring, and after that point, the lambs are on pasture only. As a side benefit, the fleeces from the ewes who got this grain blend last year had stunning fleeces when we sheared in January – where the unbred ewes who did not get this blend had fleeces very similar to previous years. I’m not sure yet exactly what made the difference, but it seemed obvious that the grain blend we are now feeding has made a positive change in our raw wool, too.
Finding a good creep feed blend that provides top nutrition to lambs while also being palatable – and that can be easily used for ewes when blended with corn – was a bit of a challenge, but it seems like we’ve found what we were looking for. It will take another couple of years of data to confirm that our lambs are actually growing better on this than the old blend, and that the fleeces, too are improved – but at this point, I’m fairly certain that the data will confirm what my gut tells me: that all of our sheep are happier and healthier on this blend than they’ve ever been before!