BFH-HAFL, Agroscope

Forage-Based Mixed Rations for Dairy Sheep and Dairy Goats in Practice

Professionally managed dairy sheep and dairy goat farms are increasingly using mixed rations. The composition of rations fed in practice and the resulting milk yield potential were analysed.

High-yielding dairy sheep and dairy goat enterprises increasingly use mixed rations to make it easier to feed a balanced ration. However, it was not known how forage-based mixed rations are composed in practice in Switzerland.

24 professional Swiss dairy goat and dairy sheep farms analysed

During the 2018/2019 winter feeding period, twelve professional Swiss dairy goat and dairy sheep farms were visited that used mixed rations. The composition of the rations fed was surveyed, feed samples of the basic feed components were analysed, and the rations’ milk yield potential was calculated.

The base rations for the sheep consisted on average of 91% meadow fodder, while for the goats this figure was 79%. The meadow fodder was usually presented as stored dried forage, and occasionally in the form of grass silage. Lucerne was fed on most of the dairy goat farms. At 18% of the total ration, the proportion of concentrate feeds was higher on the goat farms than on the sheep farms (10%). The total dry matter (DM) consumption of the dairy sheep averaged 2.5 kg DM/animal and day. The goats consumed slightly more feed at 2.8 kg DM/animal and day.

High quality meadow fodder

The nutritional profiles of the meadow fodder were of high to very high quality overall. The energy contents in particular were high, e.g. hay with an average of 5.6 MJ net energy lactation (NEL)/kg DM or second-cut hay with 5.3 MJ NEL/kg DM. The content of absorbable protein at the intestine from fermentable energy in the rumen (APDE) of the meadow fodder averaged 80 g/kg DM, but varied widely from 58 g to 105 g APDE/kg DM. After deduction of the maintenance requirements, the goats had an average of 13.2 MJ NEL and 231 g APDE and the sheep an average of 11.6 MJ NEL and 223 g APDE available for lactation. This resulted in milk yield potentials of around 5 kg per day for the dairy goats and close to 2 kg per day for the sheep.

Feed analyses allow balanced rations

The rations therefore allowed for high milk yields. However, the rations were often not optimally balanced in terms of their potential to deliver energy or protein. The nutrient profiles of the meadow fodder can vary greatly from year to year. Feed analyses would be a useful tool to inform on nutrient content and thus allow for the selection of appropriate concentrate feeds to balance the rations.


  • The base ration of all farms analysed consisted of a high proportion of meadow fodder of high to very high quality.
  • Overall, the goats were fed somewhat more intensively than the sheep.
  • The mixed rations had a milk yield potential of around 2 kg and 5 kg per day for sheep and goats respectively.
  • The rations were not always optimally balanced in terms of energy and protein.
  • It is therefore very important to be aware of the nutrient content of the feedstuffs administered and thus to select concentrate feeds in a targeted manner.
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