The East Friesian is a breed of dairy sheep originating from East Frisia in northern Germany. It is either the best or one of the best sheep breeds in terms of milk yield per ewe.
The origin of the Friesian sheep breeds is the region of Friesland extending along the North Sea coast westward from the Weser River in the northeast of Germany along the north coast of the Netherlands and south to the Schelde (Scheldt) River at the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. Offshore is a fringe of islands including the West “Frisian” Islands belonging to the Netherlands, the “East Frisian” Islands belonging to Germany, and, to the north, the North “Frisian” Islands divided between Germany and Denmark.
The East Friesian is very prolific, and a good ewe will sustain a lactation period of 220 days averaging 400 liters of milk. Over the past 30 years the Friesian has been used in crossbreeding to improve the milk yields and prolificacy of other breeds. In Canada it was used to develop the Rideau Arcott. More recently a growing market for specialty cheeses has resulted in a significant growth in the number of East Friesian ewes being milked commercially.
The Friesian sheep breeds are a heathland type sheep, the land environment in much of Frisia. The group includes related dairy breeds taking their names from, and probably largely originating in, West Friesland and Zeeland. Historically, the sheep were kept in small numbers by households for household milk. Today, reportedly these sheep do poorly when in large, dense flocks.
In physical appearance, East Friesians have pink noses and their heads and legs are clear of wool. Their heads are naturally polled. They generally have pale hooves. The most distinctive feature of an East Friesian is its tail, which is described as a “rat-tail” because it is thin and free of wool. Elsewhere on their bodies they have white wool which is about 35-37 microns, with a staple length of 120–160 mm and their fleece ranges from 4–5 kg (8.8–11.0 lb).