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Female Sheep & Goat Care

Feeding 101

Digest feeding sheep and goats.pngFeed represents the single largest cost in all types of sheep and goat production. This is because nutrition exerts a very large influence on flock reproduction, milk production, and lamb and kid growth. The nutritional needs for ewes and nannies are not static. Late gestation and lactation, for example, are the most critical periods, with lactation placing the highest nutritional demands on nannies and ewes. For these reasons and more, this article will emphasize the feed and supplement requirements of ewes and nannies.

The Basics: Feeding Ewes & Nannies

What and how much to feed a ewe/nanny depends upon many factors, including age, weight, and body condition, along with her stage and level of production. There is no one perfect feeding program and the choice of feeding program will depend upon geographic region, when they’re born, and the cost and availability of feedstuffs. What is required for a healthy diet is energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.

Some of our more specific recommendations include (but are not limited to):

  • Carbohydrates are the major sources of energy. Concentrates (grain) contain starch, which is a rich source of energy. Forages contain fiber or cellulose, which is not as rich in energy as starch. The major sources of energy are pasture and browse, hay, silage, and grains.
  • The most common protein supplement for sheep is soybean meal. Other less common sources include sunflower meal, cottonseed meal, whole cottonseed, whole soybeans, peanut meal, canola meal, fish meal, and alfalfa pellets. Legume hay, when they are harvested in the early to mid-bloom stage, are intermediate sources of protein. Protein blocks are the most expensive way to provide supplemental protein to pastured animals, but they save labor. The hardness of the block regulates intake by the sheep.
  • Fiber—at least one pound a day—adds bulk to the diet and increases rumination and salivation.
  • Ewes and nannies should have a free-choice supply of fresh, clean water at all times.

Breeding/Flushing

A ewe and nanny’s nutritional requirements do not change during breeding, unless you wish to “flush” her. Flushing is essentially preparing a ewe or nanny for breeding (i.e. optimal condition for ovulation, pregnancy, etc.). It is accomplished by providing supplemental feed (usually grain) prior to and during the early part of the breeding season.

Gestation

Early-to-Mid Gestation

A ewe and nanny’s nutritional requirements during early and mid-gestation are only slightly above maintenance. While lower quality feedstuffs can be fed during this period, inadequate nutrition can have an effect on embryo implantation.

Late Gestation

As mentioned above, ewe and nanny nutritional requirements increase substantially during late gestation, especially if they are carrying multiple fetuses. This is because approximately 70% of fetal growth occurs during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy. Adequate nutrition is also necessary to increase adequate milk production, including additional calcium. The nutrients that are most important during late gestation are energy, protein, calcium, selenium, and Vitamin E.

Lactation

Lactation places the greatest nutritional demand on ewes and nannies. How much you feed a ewe or nanny will depend upon how many lambs/kids she is nursing, her size and condition, her age, and the time of the year the lambs/kids are born. As a rule of thumb, you should feed lactating ewes/nannies 1 pound of grain for each newborn lamb/kid.

Protein and energy are both critical nutrients for milk production. If either nutrient is fed below the requirement, milk yields will be reduced (and so will lamb/kid weight gain). Feed can usually be reduced after the first 60 days of lactation. Lactating ewes and nannies require a lot of water if they are expected to milk well; it is estimated that they require 100%  more water than non-lactating ewes and nannies.

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