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East Friesian Sheep

Kristin Hitchcock

East Friesians are dairy sheep that originated from East Frisia in northern Germany, hence their name. They are renowned for their milk-making abilities and are some of the best dairy sheep around. Each ewe produces about 500-700 kg of milk per birth. Their milk tests at about 6-7% milk fat, the highest fat content of any sheep breed.

However, these sheep are not highly adaptable. They do not do well in hot climates nor industrial conditions. This is one reason they are not commonly used outside the area they originated. Instead, they are often bred with native sheep populations to increase their milk production.

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Quick Facts about the East Friesian Sheep

Species Name: Ovis aries
Family: Bovidae
Care Level: High
Temperament: Docile
Color: White
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Size: 150 to 200 pounds
Diet: Mainly grass

East Friesian Sheep Overview

This breed originated from the Friesland area, near northern German and Holland. Its primary purpose is to produce milk. It is one of the best milk-producing sheep out there in terms of sheer milk production. It can produce up to 300-600 liters of milk per lactation. Some individual animals have been reported to produce over 900 liters of milk.

East Friesian
Image Credit: gamagapix, Pixabay

To provide such high-quality milk, the sheep must be given a high-quality diet as well. For this reason, their care needs are a bit higher than some other sheep breeds.

They are not extraordinarily adaptable to hotter climates, so it is often necessary to cross them with other breeds in hotter areas. Their crossing with the Lacaune breed has been highly successful in Wisconsin.

This breed was not first imported to North America until the 1990s, though they are a decently older breed. However, since then, the sheep have taken off in popularity. In North America, they are usually used in some hybrid form due to climate.

How Much Do East Friesian Sheep Cost?

These sheep can be a bit expensive. They usually cost up to $1,000 a head, with the average price being around $800. This is mostly due to their rarity and milk production abilities. There is a high demand for this breed due to their high milk production, which drives the price up.

Many people do not breed purebred Friesian sheep due to their inability to adapt to new environments. Instead, they often crossbred them with a native breed, usually what they end up perfecting and having available. It isn’t easy to find a purebred sheep for this reason.

Most purebred Friesian sheep in North American are related to each other. If you’re looking to breed Friesian sheep, you may need to import new genetics, which will also be quite expensive.

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Typical Behavior & Temperament

These sheep are well-known for their docile nature, which is priced in dairy ewes. They do not do well in large, dense flocks. Instead, they are best for home production, which usually will only require one or two sheep. This is why they are usually not used in industrial farms.

East Friesian Sheep and the sunset
Image Credit: Derks24, Pixabay

These sheep are easy to tame, but they still require close contact with humans. Just like all animals, it is essential to handle the babies right from the start, or they may not be as docile as you’d hope.

Most people describe these sheep as acting more like dogs than actual sheep. They are not aggressive and hardly ever butt, kick, or chase their owners. They like to cuddle, and some have even reported teaching them tricks.

Appearance & Varieties

They are too many varieties of this sheep to account for, and many are not registered or wide-ranging. Individual farmers often have their native ewes artificially inseminated with Friesian sheep sperm. The babies are not always registered and, therefore, mostly unknown as a result.

Therefore, the hybrid varieties can vary considerably.  Some look similar to purebred Friesian sheep, while others do not in the least.

Purebred Friesian sheep are all about the same, though. They have pink noses. They do not grow wool on their head or legs, and both genders are polled. This means that they do not grow horns, which is preferable for dairy sheep. They often have paler hooves, though some variation on this trait is possible.

The most distinctive feature is their tail. It is relatively thin and also free of wool, which gives it the appearance of a rat-tail.

They produce white wool of about 35-37 microns at a length of 120-160 mm. They usually produce 8-11 pounds of fleece.

Most of these sheep are entirely white. There is minimal color variation, though there are some dark brown sheep as well.

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How to Take Care of East Friesian Sheep

East Friesian Sheep
Image Credit: gamagapix, Pixabay

These sheep have a high level of care due to their need for a high-quality diet. However, besides that, they are pretty easy to take care of. The most challenging time is when the ewes have their lambs. They are not particularly good mothers, and the babies are often bred small and in multiples. Lambing pens are necessary, or the mother will usually wander away from the babies, which will lead to the lambs dying. They must be contained together until the lambs can keep up.

They tend to have a group mentality when it comes to raising their lambs. Therefore, it can also be challenging to figure out which lambs belong to and who is allowed to roam during birthing.

These sheep also have everyday sheep problems. They are prone to parasites since they spend most of their time grazing. They will need to be wormed for the parasites in your area specifically, just like all the other sheep breeds would need to be.

Friesian sheep are a bit more prone to foot problems. However, it is easy to take care of them since you’ll probably only have a few ewes to deal with – not a flock of thousands.

They need to be sheared every year in most cases, and their feet will need to be picked just like a horse. It is essential to get them used to this grooming early on, or they may not be too friendly when they need it. Their wool is greasy, which makes it suitable for natural spinning.

Some will shed much of their wool, which reduces the need for you to shear them if you do not wish to. Some people want these sheep for their milk and would rather them shed all their wool so they did not have to shear them.

Do East Friesian Sheep Get Along with Other Pets?

These sheep are relatively docile, which allows them to get along with other pets quickly. They are not aggressive or territorial, so they will not try to stomp smaller pets or anything of that sort. However, their calm nature can make it difficult for them to defend themselves. Plus, they have no horns and are defenseless otherwise.

For this reason, it is essential to keep potentially predatory animals away from them, such as dogs that are not made for herd guarding. Some other livestock may also harm them due to their aggressive nature, including other breeds of sheep.

It is best to have this breed alone or with other very docile breeds. They just aren’t made to defend themselves from the fighting that often takes place in other breeds.

East Friesian lamb
Image Credit: sl-fotografie, Pixabay

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What to Feed Your East Friesian Sheep

These sheep are natural grazers, just like other sheep. For this reason, they are typically not required to eat a lot of commercial feed. The bulk of their diet will be grass. However, supplementation with other feeds is sometimes needed. This is most common in the winter when grazing may be lacking, and the sheep are lambing.

Hay is the most common supplemental food, though others are possible as well. Concentrates, silage, and arable by-products are all common supplemental foods. These sheep are not very picky, so it mostly depends on what you have on hand.

These sheep do need to eat more than your average sheep due to their milk-producing abilities. If they do not eat enough, they will not produce enough milk. When fed appropriately, some sheep can produce up to 1,000 liters during their lactation period. Some even reach 10% milk fat with the correct diet.

Keeping Your East Friesian Sheep Healthy

These sheep are prone to the same health problems other sheep are. However, they are a bit more sensitive to all the common problems, which is why their care level is so high. They are not an incredibly hardy breed.

They will need their feet taken care of, similar to horses. Luckily, because most people do not keep huge flocks, this will not take a super long time. These sheep are also pretty agreeable, so they typically don’t mind having their feet taken care of. Still, this requires practice from an early age to ensure the sheep are used to the sensation of having their feet messed with.

You will need to worm them against any parasites you have in your area, although they aren’t particularly prone to them. It mostly depends on what you have in your area and what can cause the most damage to the ewes.

Breeding

Many are artificially inseminated, but they do fine with the traditional way as well. They have a 147-day gestation period, which is about 5 months. Lambs can be born from January to May.

Multiples are very common in this breed. The lambs are born smaller than other breeds, making them a bit more challenging to keep alive. It is best if a shelter is available and you utilize lambing pens.

It is best to keep them in a lambing pen until you know that the lambs can keep up with the mother and other adults.

A 15 to 20 square foot space is available per ewe to accommodate her and her lambs. The floor should be porous, preferably dirt. Drafts should be avoided, as they can cool the young lambs.

If it is set up correctly, you can milk your flock all year round. You will need to shift when certain sheep are bred so that they all lactate at different times.

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Are East Friesian Sheep Suitable for You?

If you’re looking for a dairy sheep, you can’t get much better than an East Friesian sheep. These are renowned as the best milk producers, though they require more work than other breeds. They aren’t incredibly hardy, so many farmers decide to crossbreed them with a native breed.

If you decide to have purebred East Friesian sheep, it is best to have a physical shelter. They will need extra care while lambing, as they are not the best mothers.


Featured Image: Kapa65, Pixabay

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!