Sheep & Goats
This is an excerpt of Dairy Goat and Sheep Operations in the Southeast Production Guide, ANR-2457.
There are a number of factors to consider before purchasing your ideal dairy goat or sheep. Follow these guidelines to promote the future success of your dairy herd:
- Before purchasing dairy animals, determine the needs of the animals (food, water, and shelter) and accommodate those needs.
- If the animals are to live in a pasture, the area should be fenced in and also have shelter from the wind and rain. If there is not enough pasture for the herd/flock, provide high- quality hay to maintain body conditions.
- Goats and sheep have herd instincts and are social animals. You need to purchase at least two animals and keep them together.
- Dairy goats and sheep come in all shapes and sizes. Refer to the “Breeds” section of this guide for information on the various breeds. There is no single perfect breed of goat or sheep, only the breed that is right for the needs of the producer. Whichever breed you choose, remember that it takes as much time and money to care for a good animal as it does a bad one.
- Purebred registered animals will provide a much better return on your investment than stock from unknown origins.
- Intact horns can be dangerous, as they often become trapped in fences and hayracks, and can also injure other animals as well as humans. When possible, purchase animals that have been disbudded at an early age. A fully mature goat can still be dehorned with little effort.
- Buy animals that suit your needs. Are you making cheese or soap or planning to sell milk?
- Take an experienced producer with you to assist with your first purchase, if possible.
- Buy only from a reputable seller with good references.
- Ask if the seller offers a warranty or guarantee.
- Check milk production and health records of the potential purchase animal.
- Have your veterinarian test for CL and CAE and fecal egg count, as well as determine body condition.
- Observe the handling and milking of the animal.
- Ask to see how easily the animal mounts onto a milking stand.
- Inspect the udder for good confirmation.
- Both teats should be fully functional with no indication of mastitis.
- Ask yourself, Is this an animal I will want to milk twice daily?
- When adding purchased animals to your herd, quarantine them for 30 days before introducing them to the original herd.
- Remember, there is no 100 percent guarantee that an animal will produce the same in your herd as it did in the herd from which it was purchased.
Finding and buying a good dairy goat or sheep can be a confusing and risky task. The future success of your operation depends on good animals; do your homework and take your time when purchasing.
Dairy Goat Breeds
Alpine. The Alpine, also referred to as the French Alpine, is a medium to large animal with erect ears. Animals of this breed are available in a variety of colors and color combinations. The hair is medium to short. This breed is known for hardy, adaptable animals that can thrive in any climate while maintaining good health and excellent production. Alpine are steady producers, averaging 1 to 11⁄2 gallons of 31⁄2 percent butterfat milk per day.
LaMancha. The LaMancha was developed in the United States. There are two types of ears for this breed: gopher ear and elf ear. One type of ear has no advantage over the other. Any color or combination of colors is acceptable. The hair is short, fine, and glossy. LaMancha have an excellent temperament. They are sturdy animals that can withstand a great deal of hardship and still produce well. Through official testing, this breed has established itself in milk production with high butterfat. LaMancha average 1 to 2 gallons of milk per day, and butterfat percentage is usually 4 to 4 1⁄2 percent.
Nigerian Dwarf. The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature breed of dairy goat originating in West Africa and developed in the United States. The balanced proportions of the Nigerian Dwarf give it the appearance of the larger breeds of dairy goats, but it stands no more than 221⁄2 inches (57 centimeters) and bucks no more than 231⁄2 inches (60 centimeters). Any color or combination of colors is acceptable. Does can produce 2 cups to 3/4 gallon of milk per day. Butterfat ranges from 6 to 10 percent.
Nubian. The Nubian is of mixed Asian, African, and European origin and is known for high-quality, high-butterfat, and high milk production. This breed is relatively large (males weigh around 200 pounds). Any color, solid or patterned, is acceptable. The ears of Nubian goats are notable; they are long and floppy, extending at least 1 inch beyond the muzzle when held flat along the face. They lie close to the head at the temple and flare out slightly and well forward at the rounded tip, forming a bell shape. The ears are not thick, and the cartilage is well-defined. Nubians produce approximately 1 gallon of milk and average 4 to 5 percent in butterfat.
Oberhasli. The Oberhasli has a vigorous and alert appearance and is medium to small in size. They produce 1 gallon of milk per day. Butterfat is close to 21⁄2 to 31⁄2 percent. Like the Toggenburgs, Oberhaslis are a Swiss breed; their milk has a trademark strong- tasting flavor.
Saanen. The Saanen originated in Switzerland. They are medium to large in size, with rugged bones and plenty of vigor. Males can grow to be over 200 pounds. Saanens are one of, if not the, top producers of the dairy breeds. Production of 2 to 3 gallons per day is not uncommon, although most average 11⁄2 gallons per day. Though high producing, the butterfat content is only 2 to 3 percent.
Sable. The Sable is an adaptation of the Saanen. They are medium to large in size, with males typically standing 32 inches. The average weight for a Sable goat is 145 pounds. The milk produced by this breed is usually between 3 and 4 percent fat.
Toggenburg. The Toggenburg has a vigorous and alert appearance and is medium in size. Toggenburgs are extremely strong and durable animals, as they were bred to survive in the Swiss Alps. This breed averages about 1 gallon or more of milk each day, while remaining steady in production throughout their lactation. Butterfat content is around 3 percent. Being a Swiss breed, Toggenburgs are noted for their strong-tasting milk.
Dairy Sheep Breeds
Worldwide, most sheep are milked seasonally by hand. This is because many dairy sheep are raised in remote areas where no cow could survive. Modern sheep dairies (many found in the United States) use sophisticated machinery for milking (milking parlors, pipelines, bulk tanks, etc.). Ewes are milked once or twice daily.
While lactating ewes of any breed can be milked, there are specialized dairy sheep breeds. Worldwide, there are more than a dozen of these breeds, but few are available in the United States. East Friesian and Lacaune are the two most common breeds in the United States.
East Friesian. The East Friesian is the more common dairy sheep of the United States. This breed excels in milk production. Ewes can produce 1,100 to 1,540 pounds of milk per 220- to 240-day lactation period.
Lacaune. The Lacaune is a French breed of sheep famous for producing milk that is used in making France’s Roquefort cheese. Lacaune ewes produce a lower volume of milk compared to East Friesians, but their milk contains a higher butterfat percentage.
Note: It is becoming common practice to crossbreed East Friesian and Lacaune sheep to produce animals that demonstrate the strong traits of each breed. These crossbred animals provide high milk volume (East Friesian influence) while maintaining higher butterfat percentage (Lacaune influence).
Records and Milk Testing
The Dairy Herd Improvement Registry (DHIR) is the American Dairy Goat Association’s (ADGA) milk-testing program. It provides producers with management information. The DHIR program is a system of statistically measuring a 305-day lactation by obtaining monthly milk weights and milk samples of individual does. This program informs producers of each doe’s milk production as well as the butterfat, protein, and somatic cell counts within her milk.
There is an annual enrollment cost, but there are no additional per-doe fees. To enroll, contact ADGA at (828) 286-3801 for a new herd application packet, or download the forms from their website, adga.org.
- Most Alabama herds use Langston as their DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) and DRMS Raleigh (Dairy Records Management Systems) for their DRPC (dairy records processing center). ADGA’s site designates locations of approved DHI labs and affiliated processing centers. ADGA will assist producers in deciding which of these entities will best suit their needs. Producers also can join the Facebook group DHIA Goats to venture into the DHI program and get support from other herds that are on test.
Milk testing for sheep is a new program that started in 2016. This program is still in the pilot phase and is called P-SMTP for the IDGR-IFBR (International Dairy Goat Registry-International Fiber Breed Registry). The program is designed to encourage dairy sheep breeders to objectively assess the milking abilities of their ewes in order to improve the dairy sheep industry where flock owners cannot feasibly utilize the DHI program. The production figures generated by this system are actual, not projections, and may be used in advertising. To learn more about this program, contact the IDGR-IFBR at (202) 570-IDGR (4347) or www.idgr-ifbr.com.
Identification Methods on Vaccine Labels
When selecting a method of identification for your herd/flock, use the information provided to decide what will meet the needs of your operation.
Plastic Ear Tags
Plastic ear tags are the most common and relatively inexpensive form of visible animal identification. They come in many colors
and sizes, and even some different shapes. The plastic tags come numbered or blank, allowing producers to use their own numbering system.
Plastic ear tags are easy to read from several feet away. They also are relatively simple to apply using an ear tagger, which pierces the button of the tags through the ear.
A major problem with plastic ear tags is their susceptibility to being torn out of the animal’s ear. If plastic tags are used, it is best to have a permanent system of identification in place, as well, such as tattooing. There could be instances where several animals lose their plastic ear tags at the same time. Without another identification method, such as a tattoo, the producer could struggle to identify those animals.
Electronic Ear Tags
Electronic identification involves the use of a microchip placed in an ear tag. The microchip has the number of the tag programmed into it, and is read using a computer and reader device. This form of identification is applied just like a normal ear tag.
This method of identification could help make record keeping easier for producers, as it uses a computer system. Initial cost of this identification method can be expensive. And, like a normal ear tag, this tag could also be lost, resulting in additional expense.
- ADGA membership renewal must be completed by September 1 every year to prevent forfeiting tattoo assignments.
- Producers must reclaim their ADGA assigned herd-identifying tattoo sequence within 3 years, or the sequence will be released and available for another member to claim.
- All ADGA members are to use only the tattoo sequence assigned to their ADGA membership identification.
- ADGA will assign a tattoo sequence to a new member if a tattoo application is not presented with a new membership application.
- If unacceptable, a tattoo assignment can be changed within 30 days of certification.
- ADGA herd-identifying sequences must be applied to the animal’s right ear. LaMancha dairy goats are an exception; this breed is tattooed in the tail web.
- All kids born into a producer’s herd must be tattooed with the member’s assigned herd-identifying tattoo sequence.
- Only four letters and/or numerals are allowed within this assigned tattoo sequence.
- No tattoos can be assigned a single letter followed by a number or series of numbers. For example, A412 would not be acceptable for an ADGA herd-identifying tattoo sequence.
- Individual identification (within a single producer’s herd) should be tattooed in the animal’s left ear. LaMancha dairy goats are an exception; this breed is tattooed in the tail web.
- Use the ADGA-designated letter for the animal’s birth year as the first letter within this tattoo sequence. ADGA-designated letters are K= 2018; L = 2019; and M = 2020.
- Follow the ADGA-designated letter with a serial number to distinguish birth order within a herd. Example: The ninth kid of 2018 would be tattooed K9.
- ADGA advises tattooing animals prior to sale or purchase.
Tatooing equipment needed includes the following:
- halter or muzzle
- rubbing alcohol
- sterile gauze or sponges
- tattoo pliers
- tattoo ink (Green ink is recommended for easier identification when the skin to be tattooed is darker pigmented.)
- blank sheet of white paper
The tattooing procedure is as follows:
- Halter or muzzle the dairy goat.
- Using alcohol and gauze, remove debris from the skin (ear or tail web).
- Insert the correct symbols of the tattoo sequence into the tattoo pliers.
- Press the thin rubber sponges of the pliers firmly over the needles.
- Check the accuracy of the sequence by tattooing a piece of white paper.
- Smear ink on the skin that is to be tattooed.
- Choose an area free of warts and dark skin.
- Place the sequence parallel to and between the veins and cartilage of the right ear.
- If tattooing the tail web, place the sequence parallel to and between the veins of the tail web.
- Using the pliers, pierce the skin quickly and firmly.
- Apply more ink and rub the area continuously for about 15 seconds.
- Use an old toothbrush to work in the ink and ensure penetration into the skin.
- Remove the rubber pad from the pliers. Clean it and the needles in water and dry well.
- Replace the sponge rubber when it begins to lose its elasticity. • Allow the area to heal undisturbed for 5 to 21 days.
- ADGA recommends making an impression of the tattoo on the individual animal’s registry papers as well as private breeding records to ensure proper documentation of the tattoo.
For additional information, refer to ADGA’s fact sheet, Tattooing Your Dairy Goat.
There are presently no rules or regulations for tattooing dairy sheep. Individual producers can design and implement a numbering system for their herd using tattoos (permanent identification) or ear tags (nonpermanent identification). The procedure for tattooing dairy sheep is the same as for dairy goats. If ear tags are used, it is highly recommended that a producer also use another form of identification, such as tattoos. Ear tags are susceptible to being torn/lost from the animal’s ear.
Management from Birthing to the Dry Period
Flock/herd health and production programs target applications of preventative health and production methods to commercial goat and sheep operations. These applications are intended to increase profitability on the farm through superior health and maximum productivity.
Biosecurity is a powerful management tool that must be a common feature of all management plans. It is best to develop several sound management plans based on the specific needs of the subgroups of animals within the entire population. These groups include neonatal period to weaning, bred doelings/ewe lambs and dry females, and lactating females.
Management of Neonatal Period to Weaning
Lambing/kidding should be an event producers are well-prepared for in an operation. The following practices will ensure success during this period:
- Provide pens that offer good lighting, adequate ventilation, dry bedding, and moderate environmental temperatures for females to give birth.
- Monitor bred females intensely (3 or 4 times/day) during late pregnancy to decrease stillbirths and loss of weak neonates.
- Develop a dystocia box to assist during cases of dystocia (difficult birth). Always have it prepared prior to kidding/ lambing. The box should include lube, obstetrical (OB) sleeves, nitrile gloves, a bucket for warm water, mild dish detergent, dry towels, and 7 percent iodine for dipping navels.
- Ensure that kids/lambs ingest good-quality colostrum originating from dams that are negative for CAE. The kid/lamb should ingest the colostrum at a rate of 10 percent of its body weight at birth.
- Ensure proper identification of kids/lambs through tattooing and/or ear tags.
- Disbud kids between 7 and 14 days after birth to prevent horn growth.
- Remove extra teats (common in doelings) at the time of disbudding.
- Remove fallen hay that is mixed with organic debris and maintain a clean, dry environment to minimize ingestion of coccidian oocysts.
- Vaccinate for clostridium and tetanus (CD&T) at 4 weeks. Booster 3 weeks later.
- Monitor fecal egg counts and implement FAMACHA scoring beginning at 3 weeks of age.
Management of Bred Doelings/Ewe Lambs and Dry Females
It is common practice to dry off females the last 2 to 3 months of gestation to ensure superior colostrum development and time for mammary gland involution. This period allows for dry treatment of each half if mastitis has been a problem in the herd.
Manage nutrition so that females are not overconditioned when they enter late gestation. Overconditioned females are at higher risk of developing pregnancy toxemia. Body condition scoring is a tool that should be implemented prior to drying off.
The clipping of hair on the udder and hindquarters during late gestation will also improve milk quality by decreasing sediment in the ensuing lactation. Approximately 4 to 6 weeks prior to parturition (birthing), females should be vaccinated (Clostridium perfringens
C & D and tetanus) to ensure adequate antibodies are available to neonates through the colostrum. Vitamin E and selenium should be supplemented in areas that are deficient.
Provide routine foot care in addition to monitoring parasite load through fecal egg counts utilizing FAMACHA scoring. Monitor pregnant females for signs of abortion. All abortions should be considered infectious to humans until proven otherwise. Handle aborted tissues carefully, using protective gloves. Communication with your veterinarian or diagnostic laboratory will allow for further direction on a possible diagnosis and management.
Management of Lactating Females
Overall udder health begins at selection for superior udder conformation and attachment. The major goal for this group of animals is to maximize milk production through superior milking practices and a sound nutrition program designed for each stage and level of lactation.
Producers should provide clean, well-bedded housing for lactating females. Milking hygiene is critical for superior milk quality. For example, single-use towels are recommended during udder preparation. Milking equipment should be in good working order and regularly examined by a qualified technician. Preventative procedures, such as foot trimming, booster vaccinations against enterotoxemia, and monitoring for parasites, should continue throughout lactation.
Establish a good working relationship with a nutritionist or your veterinarian to develop a feeding regimen that specifically meets
the needs of your operation. This will prevent serious metabolic disasters and promote the most efficient milk production. Improving nutrition prior to breeding is also a method to improve ovulation rates.
Body condition scoring is important. Performing this allows the producer to evaluate and meet the needs of individuals within the herd/flock. This should be a particular emphasis 3 to 6 weeks prior to breeding and again at mid-gestation. If you have questions regarding the management of these separate groups on your farm, contact your veterinarian.
Culling, or voluntarily removing an animal from a herd, is necessary to make progress in production, conformation, and health in any operation. It is based on the goals of a producer; these goals may change over time, but they must be established and recorded.
To cull means to cut your losses. A producer needs to make a written list of factors they feel are important in meeting the established goals for their herd. It is easy to let emotion play into the decision whether to cull an animal or not. Pets are usually not profitable. If profitability is a goal, the animal’s status as a pet should not influence its status as a potential cull. If you are selling fluid milk, then volume will be more important than fat or protein content. If you are selling cheese, however, fat and protein will be of greater importance.
Considerations for culling include the following:
- low production of milk or components (butterfat, protein)
- difficulty kidding
- other diseases (caseous lymphadenitis, caprine arthritis, etc.)
- continuously high fecal egg counts and poor FAMACHA scores
- aggressive behavior toward people or other animals
- high feed intake as a result of difficulty to maintain body condition
- reoccurring structural problems
- injuries that do not readily heal
- conformation for herds with show animals
Culling records should be kept to help identify any consistencies of problems. An animal that is culled from one herd may be 100 percent acceptable in another herd. Animals that are culled for health issues should not be sold to other producers. These animals should instead be sold at local sales yards. If an animal cannot be part of a show herd, it can still find a place on another operation that does not raise show animals.
Keeping good records for production and health is a valuable tool when it comes to culling. It takes time and effort, but the rewards are great. Please refer to the “Records and Milk Testing” section of this guide for information on records and testing.
Read more from the Dairy Goat and Sheep Operations in the Southeast Production Guide.
Download a PDF of Dairy Goat and Sheep Operations in the Southeast Production Guide, ANR-2457.