Effect of Supplementation and Lactation Stage on Performance of Grazing Dairy Ewes

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,951.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
David Thomas
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed rations, grazing - rotational, mineral supplements
  • Education and Training: study circle


    A comparison of the effect of stage of lactation and supplementation found that supplementation had a positive effect on milk production of ewes in both early and late lactation. Based on the current pricing of sheep milk, trial supplement levels would be expected to increase profitability of grazing dairy sheep farms. Based on milk urea nitrogen levels, supplementation did not improve the utilization of pasture protein. The rotationally grazed, kura clover and orchardgrass pastures maintained high levels of protein and moderate levels of fiber. Pasture dry matter intake was not affected by supplementation or stage of lactation, but total dry matter intake was increased by supplementation.


    The dairy sheep industry in the United States started approximately 25 years ago. In 2003, there were approximately 75 dairy sheep farms in North America, producing over 2 million pounds of milk annually. The majority of sheep dairy flocks in North America are located in temperate regions well suited to pasture production. As the number of sheep dairy farms increases, so does the need for information regarding pasture-based production and supplementation. The research will evaluate dairy sheep production on high quality pastures, mainly kura clover and grass mixtures. The study will determine if there is a significant difference between milk production, milk composition and pasture consumption of ewes at different stages of lactation fed only pasture and ewes fed pasture with grain supplementation.

    Project objectives:

    The goal of the project is to provide farmers with information regarding supplementation of grazing dairy ewes. The short-term outcomes were to determine the effect of supplementation and stage of lactation treatments on milk production, utilization of pasture protein, and dry matter intake of grazing dairy ewes. In addition, we monitored the quality of rotationally grazed kura clover and orchardgrass pastures. Intermediate outcomes included the transfer of information regarding supplementation of grazing dairy ewes through producer meetings and publications. This information emphasizes the use of managed pastures in providing the majority of nutrients to dairy ewes to maximize milk production, pasture utilization, and farm profitability.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.