General guidelines for feeding sheep and goats

It is recommended that you use the National Research Council's nutrient requirement and feed composition tables to balance rations for sheep, goats, and other small ruminants. You can balance rations by hand (using simple math) or using a personal computer. If you are a goat producer, you can use Langston University's Ration Balancer and Nutrient Requirements Calculator.

Sheep (and meat goat) producers can use an Excel spreadsheet developed by this author. Both programs calculate protein, energy, calcium, and phosphorus requirements and compare them against what you are feeding to determine if your animals' requirements are being met. Commercial ration-balancing programs may also be purchased and used to formulate least-cost rations for sheep and goats.
 

When rations are not developed using the NRC tables, some general guidelines can be followed. Appropriate adjustments should be made for differences in size (weight), body condition, environmental conditions, and nutritive value of forages and other feedstuffs. You will balance better rations if you how much your livestock weigh and you have your hay (or other forages) tested to determine nutritive content. You can search for certified forage testing laboratories at the National Forage Testing Association web site.

 

Maintenance (dry period, not production-phase, pets)

When feeding a sheep or goat to meet its maintenance requirements, the goal is to maintain body weight and condition. There are some situations where weight loss might be acceptable and can be compensated for at a later time when feeding conditions improve. Maintenance requirements (as a percentage of body weight) tend to increase as animal size (weight) decreases. For example, sheep have higher maintenance requirements than cattle, whereas goats have slightly higher maintenance requirements than sheep.
 

1.5 to 2 percent of body weight (dry matter intake).

Pasture or 2 ½ to 4 lbs. of grass hay

No grain feeding

Free choice minerals


Flushing (2 weeks before and 2 to 4 weeks into breeding season)

The body condition of a ewe or doe affects the number of eggs she will ovulate. Ovulation rate sets the upper potential for litter size. The goal of flushing is to improve the body condition of females by getting them to gain weight. This is accomplished by increasing the nutritonal plane.

Flushing increases ovulation rates, which usually result in a higher lambing and kidding percentages. Later in the breeding season, flushing may help to improve embryo survival. Ewes and does already in good body condition (BCS > 3.0) usually do not respond to flushing.


Free access to pasture or 2 ½ to 4 lbs. of grass hay plus . . .


½ to 1 lb. of corn or barley per day

Move to high quality, but non-legume pasture
 

Early to mid-gestation (1st 15 weeks)

During this phase of production, the goal is to maintain body condition of mature females and increase condition of young females. Nutrient requirements are only slightly above maintenance. Sometimes, low quality feedstuffs can be utilized. Young females should be fed separately from mature females.
 

Free access to pasture or 2 ½ to 4 lbs. of grass hay

Grain feeding is not necessary unless forage is exceptionally poor or females are underconditioned.

Free choice minerals

One to two gallons of fresh, clean water.
 

Late gestation (last six weeks)

Late gestation is probably the most critical period for ewe and doe nutrition. Ewes and does will gain weight during this phase of production. Seventy percent of fetal growth occurs during this period. Mammary tissue is also developing. Proper nutrition is necessary to prevent pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) and milk fever (low blood calcium).


Nutrition affects the birth weights of lambs and kids. There is a higher mortality among small and large lambs and kids. Oversized fetuses increase dystocia (birthing difficulties). Aim for a body condition of 3.0 to 3.5. Young females should be fed separately from mature females. In addition to gestating, they are still growing and have higher nutritional requirements. Oftentimes, they have difficulty competing for feeder space with mature females.

 

Feed 4 to 5 lbs. of a grass or mixed hay plus . . .
 

½ to 1 lb. of grain per day

1.5 to 1.75 lbs. of grain per day, if expected lambing percentage is above 200%

1 lb. of grain for each fetus the ewe is carrying

1 lb. of a 16% CP ration if forage quality is low (meat goat does)
 

Include Bovatec®, Rumensin®, or Deccox® in feed or mineral to reduce coccidia in environment and to aid in the prevention of abortion caused by toxoplasmosis.

 

Lambing and kidding

There is no reason to push feed at ewes or does that have just given birth to their offspring. Ewes and does that have been properly fed in late gestation usually produce more than enough colostrum for their offspring. In fact, it is a good idea to collect and freeze the colostrum from single-bearing females. Too much feed early may increase the milk flow beyond what the babies can consume.
 

Provide plenty of fresh, clean water

Feed forage only, for the first few days after parturition

Take a week to get the ewe/doe onto full feed


Early lactation (first 6 to 8 weeks)

This is when ewes and does have their highestnutritional requirements, especially if they are nursing multiple offspring. Ideally, you should separate lactating females into production groups (singles vs. twins vs. triplets) and feed them according to the number of offspring they are nursing. Young females should be fed separately from mature females. In addition to producing milk for their offspring, they are still growing and have higher nutritional requirements. Oftentimes, they have difficulty competing for feeder space with mature females.

 

Feed 4 to 7 lbs. of hay plus . . .
 

1 lb. of grain per lamb or kid being nursed

Limit roughage intake of ewes and does nursing triplets

1 lb. of a 16% CP ration if forage quality is low (meat goat does)

 

Include Bovatec®, Rumensin®, or Deccox® in feed or mineral to reduce coccidia in environment and to aid in the

prevention of abortion caused by toxoplasmosis.

Two to three gallons of fresh, clean water.

 

HIGH quality pasture should meet the nutritional needs of ewes and does nursing singles and twins whereas females nursing triplets usually require grain supplemention; otherwise, the third lamb or kid should be removed for artificial rearing.

 

At weaning

A body condition score of 2.0 to 2.5 is not uncommon at the time of weaning. If early weaning is practiced, proper feeding management is necessary to prevent mastitis (udder infections).

Feed low protein and energy feed 5 to 10 days before weaning

Feed low protein and energy feed 3 to 5 days after weaning

Wean "cold turkey"
 

Lactating dairy does

Feeding dairy females is related to their genetic potential for milk production, as well as the desired level of production. As with dairy cattle, maximum milk production is not always the most profitable goal. Grass-based dairies feed less concentrate and have lower milk yields, but may return a greater profit to the operator.
 

Feed free choice hay plus . . .


Free choice grain for thin, high-producing does in early lactation.

1 lb. of grain for each 3 lbs. of milk produced in mid-lactation

1 lb. of grain for each 5 lbs. of milk produced in late-lactation.

1 lb. of grain for the doe and 1 lb. for each quart of milk she is producing

Dry period

Reduce or remove grain consumption near the time that the dairy doe is dried off.

Substitute grass hay for alfalfa or other legume.

Feed dry does free choice hay plus ½ to lb. of grain per day.


Lambs and kids

Growing lambs and kids have the highest protein requirements (percentage-wise) of any sheep or goat. Creep feeding (providing supplemental feed to nursing lambs/kids) may or may not be economical, especially for goats. Energy needs depend largely upon desired growth rates and the animals' genetic potential for growth. As with milk production maximum growth is not always the most profitable goal. Replacement females should not be fed for maximum gain because excess fat will be deposited in the mammary tissue, reducing future milk potential.


The genetic potential for growth varies by species, breed, and individual. Because hair sheep and meat goats fatten differently than other livestock (from the inside-out), they should be fed lower energy diets that enable them to grow frame before fat. In fact, lambs can be finished at heavier finish weights (~0.20 inches backfat) if they are fed a lower energy diet over a longer period of time. Due to the increased demand for lambs (and sometimes goats) at the Muslim holidays, there may be some circumstances where it makes sense to hold lambs at a zero level of
gain.

 

Protein level

Creep feed - 18-20 percent CP

40-70 lb. lambs - 16 percent CP

70 lbs. and up - 14 percent CP

Old crop lambs - 12 percent CP

16% CP after weaning; 19% if kids are weaned early.

Feeding lambs

Free access to high quality pasture plus free choice sheep minerals

Protein supplementation when pasture quality is poor (and to improve resistance to the barber pole worm)

½ to 2 lbs. of hay plus 1 to 4 lbs. of grain

Restrict hay intake as lambs get heavier

Pasture plus grain in the amount of 1 to 1.5% body weight

Include Bovatec® or Deccox® in feed or mineral to prevent coccidiosis.

 

Feeding kids

Free access to high quality pasture plus free choice goat minerals

Protein supplementation when pasture quality is poor (and to improve resistance to the barber pole worm)

Free choice hay plus ½ lb. of grain per day

Increase grain to 1 to 1 ½ lbs. if forage is poor quality.

Include Rumensin® or Deccox® in feed or mineral to prevent coccidiosis.

Weanlings and yearlings: 1 lb. of a 16% CP grain if forage quality is low
 

Bucks and rams

There is a tendency to overlook the nutrition of rams and bucks. In other situations, rams and bucks are overfed. Aim for a body condition score of 3.0 to 3.5 at the start of the breeding season. Do not allow males to get fat. Some males will literally "starve" themselves during the breeding season, so be prepared to supplement them, if necessary with grain.

Free access to pasture or hay plus 1 lb. of grain per day

Pasture or 4 to 7 lbs of average quality hay

Increase feed 4 to 6 weeks prior to breeding season, if necessary

Males may require 1 to 2 lbs. of grain per head during breeding season.

Free choice minerals

One to two gallons of fresh, clean water.

 

This article was written in 2008 by Susan Schoenian.

© 2019 Maryland Small Ruminant Page. Created with Wix.com by Susan Schoenian.

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Wix Twitter page
  • flicon.jpg
  • Instagram
  • WMREC blog
  • SlideShare
  • ISSUU
  • youtube.png