I got asked a question by a family member the other day that went along the lines of, I know you milk your sheep but did you have to buy special sheep to do it?
The short answer is, I would if I could! but no..
The long answer is that there are milking breeds of sheep, the main one I have researched being the East Friesian, this breed of sheep are primarily raised for milk, lots of milk, lots of lambs, issues with my area, does not like heat (we have heat in the summer) and requires lots of really good feed and high energy impute to put out that vast amount of milk.. still we do have a few breeders in my province but at this time, they are either keeping back their ewe’s to grow the flock or selling starter flocks are very high prices at the moment, the rams are also getting high prices to be used in cross-breeding into commercal flocks as they are big sheep with a good growth rate on the lambs.
The second breed I have looked at is the British Milking Sheep, I like what I read but can’t find any to even really price out, they came to canada only in 1999, so to say they are rare would be a fair thing..
Katahdin is my milking sheep of choice, I like my hair sheep, they may not give wool but they are a wonderful breed of sheep, they are excellent on pasture, require little in way of extra feed(unless I want to give it to them) have excellent twin rates, natural easy birthing, and strong good mothering.
My first couple years of lambing, I could not help but notice that a few of the girls had just wonderful teat placement and larger teats then the rest of the girls, I would not want to milk some of the girls, I have done so to get a bit of milk into the mouths of newborns that are having trouble figuring it out etc, and its not fun or something I want to do once a day.
However I have two breeding lines that produce excellent bags and teat size and placement for milking, one line has the perfect temperment for it and one line does not.. the key difference’s being.
- Line A is naturally a much more trusting line then Line B
- Line A is not only calmer but better at understanding a routine then Line B
- Line A willingly get on the stand after a couple days of being lead by the grain pan, and soon will be on it, head in, waiting for you, Line B, has to be lead into the milking room and wants the grain but will dart around the room until finally caught by collar, taken to stand and while you can get them to put the front up, you almost always have to lift the rear before they settle down.
- Line A is a easy let down, give them their warm bag wash up, do a lamb bop on the bag three times (something you would never do with any other milking girl) and the milk flows, Line B will give you the first glut of milk but really makes you work for the extra
- Line B has the ability to outproduce Line A..
So what is a farmgal to do.. Did you just say, breed line A an B together and keep back the temperment of Line A but with the increased good points of line B.. cuz if you did.. you are bang on.. I held back one carefully selected ram and did a cross back line breeding and got not one but two lovely ewe’s from the breedings, who have the better temperments but we will see if I get the extra’s when they lamb for the first time this coming year (they had to grow up first) but I am hopeful.
So like all other dairy animals they thrive on gentle but firm care and they love their routine, mine goes like this, I might last, as I want the milk to come to the house as fresh as possable, so call the sheep in that are to be milked, typically at least two, both come in, Milking girls have collars and you snag a collar and snap one to the wall to wait and if trained the other one jumps onto the milking stand and put’s her head though to get to where her milking rations will be..
I do give grain milking rations mixed with a complete sheep chow and typcially a once a week extra like kelp etc, when I am asking the girls to be heavy milkers, I do it for a couple reason’s, asking them to produce milk like they have extra lambs is hard work, but also because it is a reward for being milked.. no milking, no milking ration, on the stand, reward, off the stand, no reward.. if the sheep is even tempered, this works out quickly and easily. Once on the stand, I like to give the bag a warm wash with a cloth, it cleans the bag, and it feels good to them, then I stripe test each teat into the test cup to make sure the milk looks good, and then its time to rest the head on the flank and get that swish, swish going into my steel bowl, I perfer steel to milk in, as its the best for getting clean in between, in the deep of winter the bowl is so cold that the first hits of milk tend to freeze but it will fill up, once done milking, be kind and put a little bag balm on the teats if its needed, and then give your girls a little pat and let her back out and clipped to the wall and repeat as needed, then let go and open the gate and out of the milking room.
If anyone has had a poo in the room, sweep it up and remove, at least twice a week (if you want to be fussy, daily) you should go down and give a good wash/scrub of the milking stand itself, as they do get it dirty with their feet, wipe or wash out their feed bin daily as they will get it all covered in spit, I would recommend each sheep has its own bin for its milking ration, they don’t normally swap spit and it might not be needed but it just seems like a clean thing to do.
Let them go back to the main flock for the day as they will be more relaxed and happy that way, at the evening chores, using just a touch of grain, bring them within catching reach and put them into their jug for the night, with their lambs beside them but not able to get them, I swear after the first nights of crying, everyone will settle down into the idea.. Then you milk them for house use in the morning and the lamb or lambs feed during the day, (don’t take any milk at all from a girl that has more then two lambs).
If you know that you want one of your girls for milking, you can see if you can get a different ewe to take one of her twins as their own, so that you can have the extra milk for the house, it does take a bit of work but if you know your ewe’s there will always be a older girl who while giving a few starting head butts will take an extra lamb if introduced right and jugged up with her for couple days to bond, provided the timing of her lambing is right.
You can also wean a strong milking girls lambs when they are old enough and still have months of milking from their mother, only thing is, then you need to milk twice a day and every day, where if you can shift one lamb on a set of twins to a different ewe, you can leave her lamb with her if you need or want to not milk for a day or two for whatever reason and all is well.
On average my milking sheep girls give about a quart jar of milk per milking in the flush, nothing like a milk goat will produce but the sheep milk is so very rich, you don’t use it to drink, it’s used for baking or to make yogurt, or many kinds of cheeses with. You can even make sheep milk icecream..
So if you have sheep out in the pasture, check your girls over carefully and see if you can find that rare but wonderful girl who’s teats are bigger and come down more and take advantage of it and add sheep milk to your kitchen, if you are anything like me, you will be very pleased with the qaulity of the milk you get.
As for me, my milking is winding down, my girls will be or already are heading into breeding season, so its dry up time around here. At least for a little while, I have one expecting ewe who should lamb out in oct, as she breed out of season and is already showing..