By Chris Grant of Mzilikazi Kalahari Red Goats
Creep feeding is an important management practice that some farmers might not be aware of. It is the ‘art’ of feeding a solid diet to young livestock (kids, calves and piglets) while they are still suckling. Thus, preparing their digestive systems for weaning by initiating and promoting gut and digestive enzyme development.
Creep feeder – In order to correctly implement this practice a creep feedermust be constructed. This is an infrastructural division made up of a simple enclosed frame. The frame should be made up of pass panels that are large enough to allow only the young livestock to fit through the openings, but small enough to restrict access by the rest of the livestock.The feeders are placed inside the creep feeder and the young livestock can move in and out to eat.
Creep feed – The feed needs to be soft and easy for the young livestock to eat. As a farmer, I make my own creep feed for my goats. Maize bran with a bit of mealie meal mixed in, is a good place to start for kids. A nutrient balanced store-bought creep feed can be used. But since the kids will be getting plenty of nutrients and minerals from their mother’s milk it’s all adds up to be a bonus. Creep feeding using fodder crops is a good option to consider. A small plot of lucerne is a definite good creep feed, and as well as for the lactating doe’s. It is important to sun dry it to avoid bloat. Lucerne is known as the king of fodder crops because it is packed with minerals and vitamins. Alternatively, one can grow lablab or velvet bean and have the dry bails milled to make milled fodder.
Creep Feeding- In goats, creep feedingis initiated at 10 days old. It is advised to start the kids off with small quantities and gradually increase the ration as they get used to the feed. In order to keep the feed fresh, one can put small quantities of feed at a time in the trough. At the same time making sure to have the creep feed ad lib. This is the ‘art of creep feeding’.
Weaning – At Mzilikazi Kalahari Reds we wean our male kids at 3 months because at this age they become a bit boisterous and the doe’s are weaned at 4 months to promote maximum development. In cattle, I have seen farmers wean their calves at 4 months old, giving the cows a shorter reproduction cycle, which is more profitable for a farming enterprise. Creep feeding encourages feed intake, which is one of the greatest challenges to post-weaning performance.
Benefits of creep feeding – As the kids, calves or piglets grow bigger, so does their demand for milk. Therefore, creep feeding eases the burden on the mother by taking away some of the nutritive load off her. An advantage in the mothers’ reproductive cycle is also presented. “I give my doe’s a slightly above maintenance ration of feed during the nursing period, in order to maintain their weight for subsequent reproductive competence. I would have been adjusting their maintenance rations as the browsing season changes. I mentioned slightly above maintenance because we need their weight to be slightly increasing so that they will have a higher chance of having twins. I prefer to mate them after weaning. I firstly look at the condition of my doe’s before mating them.” It means that doe’s can be mated after 3 months of giving birth hence making maximum use out of them. Its important to note that this practice will shorten the does lifespan.
“I think by now I have made my argument clear; creep feeding is a practice that we need to adopt in order to increase production and farm profits. This in turn will lead to successful farming”.