Milk yield and milk composition from grazing primiparous non-dairy crossbred ewes

J.E. Morgan, N.M. Fogarty, S. Nielsen, A.R. Gilmour

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Milk production and milk composition were studied in 520 primiparous Merino crossbred ewes that were the progeny of 30 sires from several maternal crossing breeds including Border Leicester, Coopworth, Finnsheep and East Friesian. The ewes were born in 3 years (1997, 1998, and 1999), with 3 sires used in every year to provide genetic links. The crossbred ewe lambs were randomly assigned to autumn or spring joining groups and mated to Poll Dorset rams to lamb at 12 or 19 months of age. Ewes were milked on 3 days during their first lactation at approximately 3,4, and 12 weeks after lambing. On each milking day, each ewe was initially injected with oxytocin, milked out by machine, and then hand-stripped. This procedure was repeated approximately 4 h later, with the milk weight and time recorded to extrapolate to daily milk yield, and composition of the milk was determined. Daily milk yield was analysed using REML mixed models procedures and 3 measures of milk production were predicted: peak milk yield at 21 days of lactation, total milk yield from 21 to 90 days of lactation, and length of lactation (days for daily yield to decline to 600 g/day). Milk composition traits (%fat, %protein, %lactose) and proportion of machine milk yield were analysed with similar models. Sire breed, number of lambs born and suckled, season, and ewe weight gain from mid-pregnancy until lamb weaning were all significant (P < 0.01) for daily yield, which declined from 2.1 kg/day at 21 days to 0.7 kg/day at 90 days of lactation. The Finnsheep-cross ewes had lower peak milk yield (1.84 ± 0.08 v. 2.09-2.19 ± 0.1 kg/day) and lower total yield of lactation (21-90 days) than all the other breed-cross ewes (78 ± 3 v. 92-107 ± 5 kg). The East Friesian-cross ewes had significantly longer lactations (128.8 ± 10.9 days) than the Border Leicester (98.1 ± 4.4 days) and Coopworth (93.7 ± 4.2 days), with the Finnsheep-cross ewes the shortest (80.1 ± 3.1 days). The East Friesian-cross ewesthe greatest and the Finnsheep-cross ewes the least total yield of lactation (107 ± 5 and 78 ± 3 kg, respectively). There were significant differences in peak milk yield for ewes bearing and suckling single lambs, twin-born and single-raised lambs, and twin-born and raised lambs (1.86 ± 0.04, 2.03 ± 0.09, and 2.37 ± 0.07 kg/day, respectively). There was a significant decline in daily milk yield with increasing ewe weight gain from mid-pregnancy to lamb weaning (-18.1 ± 4.2 g/kg). All the components of milk composition changed from the peak of milk production at 3 weeks to the end of lactation. The East Friesian-cross ewes had significantly lower milk %fat (by approx. 1 percentage point) at both 21 days and 90 days of lactation than ewes by all other sire breeds. The 30 sire progeny mean deviations for daily milk yield ranged from -292 to +276 g/day, with considerable ranges between sires within the sire breeds. The implications for lamb production and breeding programs are discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)377-387
    Number of pages11
    JournalCrop and Pasture Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    Dive into the research topics of 'Milk yield and milk composition from grazing primiparous non-dairy crossbred ewes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this