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East Friesian Sheep

This is an excerpt of Dairy Goat and Sheep Operations in the Southeast Production Guide, ANR-2457.

Nutrient requirements differ based on age, stage of production, weight, breed type, and the environment. In order to maintain milk production and health, goats and sheep must be fed a balanced diet.

In the Southeast, forages make up the majority of the daily diet of these animals. Dairy goats and sheep can consume between 3 and 5 percent of their body weight per day in forage dry matter. Provide a free-choice mineral supplement containing salt and trace minerals to help meet dietary requirements of goats and sheep on forage-based diets.

The nutritional needs of dairy goats and sheep increase for animals that are growing, in late pregnancy, or lactating. During lactation, supplementation with additional nutrients may be needed to sustain production. Energy is especially important for milk yield,

while protein is needed for milk quality. Grain or co-product mixtures contain additional energy and protein, as well as provide minerals and vitamins.

In order to meet a high level of milk production, 1 pound of grain-based mixture on average is needed for every 3 pounds of milk produced.

Table 4. Energy and Protein Dietary Requirements of Goats/Sheep in Various Stages of Production

Stage of ProductionTotal Digestible Nutrients %Crude Protein %
Growing doe/ewe kid/lamb, 45 lb568.8
Yearling doe/ewe, 90 lb (last trimester)5610
3-year-old doe/ewe, 110 lb6911.7
Dairy doe/ewe, 150 lb (milking 1 gal per day, 4% BF)7111.6


Table 5. Average Milk Production of Various Dairy Goat Breeds

1The first six breeds listed are the most common breed types used in the US; DHIR, 2010.
2Sheep production based on a 230-day lactation

Breed Type1Average Milk Production (Lb per Lactation Period)Expected Milk Fat %Expected Milk Protein %
La Mancha2,1004.03.2
East Friesian21,0005.64.8


Nutrition Management Keys Pasture

Goats and sheep prefer browsing or consuming wood plants and shrubs. But goats are also grazers and will graze grasses, legumes, and weeds in a pasture in the absence or low presence of woody plants. Table 6 provides a select list of the most common forages used in Alabama. Forages provide the basis for goat and sheep diets.

Table 6. Common Forages for Goats and Sheep in Alabama

Cool-Season GrassesWarm-Season GrassesLegumes
tall fescue
white clover
browntop millet
pearl millet
arrowleaf clover
ball clover
crimson clover
common vetch
hairy vetch



Test hay for quality (energy and crude protein values) by contacting the Soil Testing Laboratory at Auburn University (aces. edu/anr/soillab). Refer to Collecting Forage Samples for Laboratory Analysis (Extension publication ANR-2224) for information on how to collect a representative sample.

Conducting a forage analysis is the only way to know the nutritional value of the hay being used in your operation. This information can then be compared with the nutrient requirements of the animals being fed to determine if there are deficiencies. If the forage alone is inadequate to meet the animal’s nutritional requirement, a supplementation plan can be developed to address this need.


Supplemental grain may be needed to help dairy goats/sheep meet production goals. Start does/ewes on a supplement 1 month before kidding/lambing. The dam should consume between 1 and 2 pounds of grain by parturition. This provides supplemental nutrients to the doe/ewe during a time of increasing nutrient needs. After kidding/lambing, supplementation may need to be increased to support a high level of milk production. One pound of supplement per 3 pounds of milk produced is a good rule to follow.

When choosing supplements, look for those that contain at least 65 percent total digestible nutrients and 12 percent crude protein to have an adequate balance of energy and protein. Higher levels of each may be needed to achieve certain production goals.

Table 7 shows the level of protein supplement that is needed based on the expected quality of forage (pasture or hay) in the diet.


Provide access to cool, clean water for dairy goats/sheep. Refer to Drinking Water for Livestock (Extension publication ANR-2381) for additional information on managing clean water resources. Water consumption of dairy goats/sheep is up to 3 times their total daily dry matter intake. Goats drink about 0.8 gallons of water for every 1 gallon of milk produced. Goats/sheep will drink more water during warmer weather and less in the cooler months of the year.

Goats/sheep will refuse contaminated or soiled water until forced to drink. This may serve as a potential source of coccidian and other parasites.

Table 7. Supplemental Protein Needs of Dairy Goats with Varying Forage Quality

*Adapted from Kieser, 2010, Feeding Dairy Goats, University of Minnesota Extension.

% Protein in Forage (Animal Milk Production Level, Lb per Day)*% Protein Needed in Supplemental Feed
≥ 15% CP
5 lb/day14
8 lb/day12
12 to 15% CP
5 lb/day16
8 lb/day14
≤ 10% CP
5 lb/day20
8 lb/day18


Feeding Dairy Goat Kids and Sheep Lambs

Goat kids/sheep lambs and yearlings have very specific needs when it comes to feeding and nutrition. If the nutritional program is managed properly, they can grow to become a valuable production asset on the farm.

Newborn Kids/Lambs

Once a doe has kidded or ewe has lambed, it is important that the new kid/lamb receive colostrum within the first 8 hours of birth. It is preferred that the kid/lamb receive colostrum within the first hour. If colostrum is not received, the newborn may not be protected from various diseases that can cause death.

After receiving colostrum, the milk feeding schedule becomes an important consideration. Table 8 describes the amount of milk needed per day and frequency of delivery based on increasing age of the animal.

Table 8. Milk Feeding Schedule of Dairy Goat Kids

*Source: Feeding and Housing Dairy Goats (1993)

Age*Amount of MilkTimes to Feed Per Day
1 to 3 days4 oz (1/2 cup)4 or 5
4 to 14 days8 to 12 oz3 or 4
2 weeks to 3 months16 oz2 or 3
3 to 4 months16 oz2


In young, growing kids/lambs, scours or diarrhea may be a problem. It is critical to catch this early to prevent dehydration and potential illness or death.

Weaning and Management of Growing Kids/Lambs

At the age of 3 to 5 weeks, allow access to creep feed. This will aid in the process of weaning, as well as stimulate rumen function. Providing creep feed with a coccidiostat is a great way to combat coccidian.

Growing kids/lambs require higher amounts of protein in their diets than mature does/ewes. At 4 to 6 months of age, rations similar to the milking herd may be fed to kids.

One-half pound of grain per day, along with good-quality hay (10 to 12 percent CP), should provide a sufficient growth rate. A poor-quality hay (less than 10 percent CP) will require an increased amount of grain at 1 to 11⁄2 pounds of grain/day to meet the same level of requirement. Purchase hay of known quality to minimize supplemental feeding requirements.

Feeding Colostrum to Kids and Lambs

The ingestion of colostrum is paramount to the survival of newborn kids/lambs. In addition to being an excellent source of energy, protein, and other nutrients, colostrum contains maternal antibodies that will help to protect the newborn kids/lambs from infectious diseases.

The key to successful colostrum management can be summarized with the three Qs: quantity, quality, and quickly.


The specific quantity of colostrum needed will depend on the amount of antibodies in the colostrum. A general rule is that each kid/lamb should receive at least 10 percent of its body weight in colostrum. For example, a 4 kg (9 lb) kid should ingest at least 400 mL (13.5 oz) of colostrum soon after birth. Consumption above and beyond 10 percent of body weight is beneficial and encouraged.


To help promote the production of high-quality colostrum, ensure that the doe/ewe is on a proper plane of nutrition throughout gestation—particularly during the last month before delivery when she is beginning to make colostrum. The doe/ewe should also be current on vaccinations. The colostrum first produced by the doe/ ewe will be of the highest quality; colostrum quality decreases if the doe/ewe leaks milk before kidding and as time passes after parturition.


The young’s ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum decreases rapidly after birth and essentially ceases by 20 to 24 hours of age. Kids/lambs should receive at least 50 percent of the quantity of colostrum to be consumed within 2 hours of being born, with the remainder ideally being fed within 6 to 8 hours of birth.

Feeding Management

The most certain method to ensure timely intake of a sufficient amount of colostrum is to hand milk the doe/ewe and bottle feed the kids/lambs. If this is not feasible and nursing of the dam is preferred, the kids/lambs should be monitored at parturition to ensure that they rise and nurse quickly. Assistance may be provided as needed.

If the kids/lambs fail to nurse or drink sufficiently from the bottle, colostrum can be administered through a stomach tube. Placement of a stomach tube should be performed by, or under the supervision of, a veterinarian. The tube should be flexible and of relatively small diameter to pass easily into the stomach. These tubes often can be obtained from your veterinarian or local farm supply store.

If the doe/ewe does not have adequate colostrum to support her young, commercial colostrum replacers are available at most farm supply stores. Colostrum replacers are generally sold in powdered form and will need to be reconstituted according to the label directions before administration to the kids/lambs. Whether using natural colostrum or colostrum replacer, the key to successful colostrum management is to give a sufficient quantity of high-quality colostrum quickly after birth.


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