Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Trough, Lots of Waiting

A creep feeder is one of the pieces of farm equipment that makes a farmer’s life just a little easier. Designed to allow the smaller animals constant access to feed, it improves growth rates dramatically.

Prior to the purchase of the creep feeder, we designed a pen in the barn with a special gate to provide essentially the same thing. The biggest downfall of this system was that the feeder was fairly small and had to be re-filled almost hourly.With a larger number of lambs, the task was going to become a round-the-clock ordeal.

The new creep feeder contains a big bin which holds 600 or more pounds of feed. As the lambs eat out of the feeder tray, the grain automatically refills. While it does require some type of monitoring, it doesn’t need to be re-filled more often than once a week, if that.

Some may wonder why we feed grain at all. I am not going to get into the whole “ruminants don’t need grain” debate. Suffice it to say, we want a superior product. We have found that adding grain along with vitamins and minerals consistently produces the quality we demand.

When we first set up the creep pen, the lambs couldn’t begin to figure it out. That wasn’t surprising; they are sheep …for goodness sake! Once they realized there were goodies inside, they quickly got the hang of it. Unfortunately, the ewes figured out if they stuck their heads in at just the right angle, they could get the goodies, too!

Tom to the rescue! A couple of well-positioned pipes, and it became ewe-proof. The lambs are quite adept in using the feeder now; they are thriving.

Yesterday, we moved the creep feeder to a new location. It wasn’t a big move…maybe 20 feet. But, when the lambs came back to the barn, they stopped, looked around and went to the original spot. One lamb began baa-ing loudly. Several others figured it out, and everyone got to eat. That is just proof that sheep are not known for their intelligence.

One great feature of a creep feeder is that the opening can be adjusted to accommodate any size animals. Since we are trying to give the smaller ones an added advantage, we are not increasing the size of the gate. As the lambs have grown, fewer can go inside the feeder easily. That is the beauty of the design. The younger, smaller lambs are at the bottom of the “pecking order” and cannot compete with their larger counterparts. The creep feeder allows them to eat as they need or desire.

This afternoon, I watched as one of the “big boys” attempted to get in. First he tried walking in. BANG! He hit the gate. Then he tried butting it. BANG! He hit the gate. He then backed up, put his head down and put it through the gate. He was momentarily stuck until he pulled first one ham and then the other through the small opening. He worked so hard to get in there, it was fun to watch. I hope he doesn’t eat too much; we may never get him out!

Last week, we had a “lamb jam” when ten of the lambs got in the feeder and were wedged into place. I had to physically remove a couple before a normal traffic pattern could be re-established. I did grab my camera first in order to provide photographic evidence. You can’t make this stuff up!

They are growing well, due in part to the new creep feeder. We’re about 60 days from the first of the “lamb chop crop”. I can’t wait to see how this experiment plays out.

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