Management of Ewes and Does
Increasing Milk Production and Newborn Growth

Introduction: There is great variation in the quality and quantity of the milk produced by different ewes or does and even by different breeds of ewes or does. Under normal circumstances, older animals tend to produce more milk. However, the nutrition of the mother during gestation (pregnancy) and lactation has a significant effect on the quantity of milk produced.

Ewe/Doe Nutrition and Milk Production: Milk production increases sharply after the birth of the newborn and reaches its peak between 3 and 8 weeks. In most females, with dairy goats being the exception, milk production has significantly decreased by 8-10 weeks. Mothers that have limited feed intake during their first 2-4 weeks of lactation, never reach their potential lactation peak and consequently produce less than their genetic potential throughout lactation. These mothers also tend to have a more rapid decline in milk production and do not lactate for as long. Realize that many newborns are solely dependent on the mother’s milk for the first 3 weeks. It is not until 3 and 4 weeks after birth that the newborn begins to supplement its diet by aggressively grazing forage and/or consuming significant amounts of hay and creep feed. Inadequate milk production during this critical time leads to poor growing newborns.

To measure if a ewe/doe is being adequately fed during gestation and lactation, monitor her body condition. Ideally, the ewe/doe should have a body condition score of about a (3) three. A ewe/doe that has to maintain a high level of production, will lose body condition if adequate nutrition is not provided. (For help on judging body condition, refer to page C85.) Because of this, it is important to ensure the ewe/doe receives a balanced diet and is fed the proper quantity during gestation and lactation. The following are some suggested rates of supplementing grain to help meet the increased nutritional needs:

0-150 days post conception   

0.75-1.0 lb. per day

During lactation   

1.5 lb. per day

Dairy goats   

0.5-1.0 lb. per every 1-3 lbs. of milk produced

The producer must also ensure that all animals have equal access to supplemental feeds and quality roughage. Mothers that have recently given birth are unlikely to go over to the supplemental feeding area. Because of this, the intervals between supplemental feedings for the flock/herd should not be too long. In general, the group should be fed at least daily, with 2-3 times a day being the recommendation. Where the roughage in the pasture or range is limited, it may be advisable to provide the ewes/does with some supplemental hay (alfalfa, alfalfa-grass mix, other legumes and mixed grasses) until the pasture or range has enough nutritional substance and bulk.

Most early lactating ewes require about 6-8 lbs. of feed that has a total protein of 14-15% and a net energy (Mcal NE) of 3.72. Most early lactating does require a diet that is 15-18% protein and has a net energy (Mcal NE) of 4.23.

Other Handicaps to Lamb/Kid Growth: When worm (internal parasite) burdens are high, worm egg output increases. This contaminates the pastures, dry-lots, and lambing/kidding areas used by other animals. Some health experts have found that during the lambing/kidding season, the mother has decreased immunity. This makes her more susceptible to parasitic infections. If a ewe/doe becomes infected with a significant worm burden, the growth of the lamb/kid will be adversely affected. If this situation is not corrected by birth, these worm burdens in the mother and eventually the newborn can severely reduce growth and production rates. This condition can be controlled by de-worming ewes/does 2-4 weeks prior to the lambing/kidding season. De-worming ewes/does and then moving them to a safe pasture, will prevent the rise in production of worm eggs after lambing/kidding. If the ewes/does are not moved after this dose, additional doses are required at 3 week intervals throughout the lambing/kidding season. The final dose should be given 2-4 weeks after the last lamb/kid is born. A de-wormer for lambs or kids at weaning should also be given. See page B620 for additional de-worming information.

A deficiency in vitamin B12 in the lamb/kid will retard growth rates. Vitamin B12 is made in the rumen from dietary cobalt. A ewe/doe that consumes cobalt in her diet can produce the vitamin B12 and pass it along to her newborn in the milk. However, some areas of the United States are considered cobalt deficient. These areas include the Northeast, Midwest, around the Great Lakes, and Florida. Because of this, it is critical that ewes/does in these areas be properly supplemented with cobalt. An additional precaution is to give an injection of vitamin B12 to the lamb/kid when it is 4-6 weeks old.

Maximizing Lamb/Kid Growth Rate: For the first 3 weeks, lamb/kid growth will reflect the mother’s milk production. After the first 3 weeks, however, growth will also reflect the pasture/range available for grazing. Therefore, when planning the lambing/kidding season, make sure to have the best pasture/range forages available no later than 3 weeks after the ewes/does give birth.


  1. Maintain proper body condition on both ewes and does during gestation.
  2. Provide adequate feed during lactation.
  3. Make sure mothers are not deprived of feed during lactation - feed supplements regularly.
  4. Monitor the internal parasite load in ewes/does before the lambing/kidding season.
  5. Plan ahead........have the best pastures or range ready at least 3 weeks from the initial starting day of lambing/kidding.
  6. Do not forget, a ewe’s/doe’s milk is over 85% water. Without an adequate supply of clean drinking water, all of the information presented above is irrelevant.