I was asked when I would be able to do a sheep milking demo or class, and I can and will work on getting a video together for this but till then, I will do a detailed write up to get folks started on their own.
So the first thing you need is a sheep with a good udder and teat size and placement, you can buy this so that you can milk without using your hands and if you had a girl with excellent production but very small teats, it would most likely be the way to go, but if you have teats that are reasonable in size then hand milking is quite possable.
Step one, catch your sheep and put a big old dog collar on her and a smaller one on her lamb, turn her back loose to the flock..
Pick the spot you are going to milk at, now ideally you would have a goat style milking stand, as you can then milk on a stood instead of pretty much sitting on your rear, but I’m going to assume that you are going to want to milk and find out if you like the sheep milk without putting out the funds on a proper stand..
So once you have figured out where you want to milk, you are looking for a quiet out of the way place that you can be alone with your sheep, without other sheep bugging you, if your sheep has a single lamb, then a good size jug with a dog crate in one corner is perfect, either find a place to put a short rope/chain with a clip on it.
Catch your girl and bring her into the area, put down feed for her and while she is busy eating, clip her to the rope and just hang with her.. don’t try and milk her yet, just work on touching her back and flanks while she eats, if she stops eating, back off and wait till she starts again (basicly what I want to teach my girls is, I milk, you get amazing milking ration) you don’t stand and let me milk, you don’t get your ration, that way the sheep feels like she has a choice).
Once she is done eating, just let her stand and if she has a good fight or two with her tie down, just let her do her thing, do not react or pet or try and calm her, that’s her job, to figure out how to relax and calm herself, as soon as she is standing calmly or if she is really wild the first time or two, just not fighting or pulling, unsnap her and consider it a job well done.
So depending on how wild you started with, this can take one or two sessions or it can take a couple days, but when the sheep is running up to the pen door and you, and has figured out that you are the “grain” person, you are ready for the next step, that night after feeding, put in a hay and water and leave her in the pen, go out before bed and put her lamb into the dog crate with a good layer of bedding in the bottom and lock the lamb up, you are going to be doing what is called milk sharing, or once a day milking.
The sheep will have a full bag in the morning to milk, and the lamb will be able to milk all day/evening, this also means that if you need to miss a milking, you can do so with no issues.
So its the next morning, and you bring out her grain, clip her on and you will need a small bucket with warm (very lightly soapy water) with a soft cloth to wash her bag with, and a small steel bowl, now there is not alot of room between my sheeps bag and the floor, and so I personally hold the steel bowl in one hand milk one handed, the best way I can say to learn to be milk is hold your thumb on your non -dominant hand with it pointing downward, and gentley wrap your other thumb and for finger around it and then wave your other fingers downward.., releasing when you get to the top, this allows the milk to flow back in, the slight pressure at the starts of the milk down, keeps the milk from coming back up, and the wave pushes the milk out of the teat, when you get it right, its like a milking pulse, and the milk will come swish, swish, swish in the pail, you can always tell if you are milking right by the sound, as after you get the feel of it, you will not be bending down to see what is happening..
But for now, go ahead and watch and look, at the moment, I don’t much care about aim, but I should make a note of it, once you get the milk coming out, then you will next need to figure out how aim that flow of milk, minor angles can make a big difference on the flow of how fast or easy it will be milk the teat.
Ok, so I am assume at this point, you have a clean bag, milk flowing and you are getting at least some of it in the pail, not just on your hand, the floor and in pretty much every direction and then some.. (if you sheep really does not want to start or let down her milk, give her a couple gentle bumps to get things going, as you know the lambs are not so gentle but we can be and still get the same effect, more on that later)
So it typically can take one to four milking pulls to start a tricky side but once they know what is going on, its more like one or two, ideally and for safety, your first couple swirts of milk should be in a test cup and or in a white cup, check this milk, you should not see any signs of issues, no puss, no blood, no clumbing or strings, give it a swirl around, it should look perfectly normal, once you have the first test clear, then switch to the proper milking pail and milk your sheep out.. once your side is mostly done and the milk flow is slowing down, give your girl a light bumping, it almost always end up giving you a bit more rich very heavy cream at the end if you do this.
Now you can expect some leg kicks, some rear swings and general dancing as the learning curve is going on.. just plan for your first couple milking to be all about learning and not about having that milk for the house, its good for the cats, the chickens or the dog or a pig if you have it, but I assure you, you will not be able to end up with clean milk while learning how to milk/hold the bucket and deal with a fuzzy milker..
Here are the golden rules..
- Always reward your milker with a feed she really likes, she should learn to look forward to her time with you, she may never really liked to be milked but she should learn, milking = grain.
- Always try and milk at the same time as much as possable, pick your time and stick to it.
- Have a routine, if you come in and do her hay and water first, then you do her feed, then clip her and then so on and so on.. stick to the routine, she will learn it, just as she will learn how you milk, and don’t think because she is excellent about you, means that anyone else in thefamily can milk her.. each person milks different, even if you would all swear its the same.. its not..
- Always, Always, Always milker her out, you do not leave a unfinished bag, even if you have to quietly wait for her to finish her fit, you will be calm and steady and you will NOT teach her that being bad means you stop or give or put her lamb on her..
- Learn your girl, I have one girl that likes a head lean, she leans back and perfers to be milked side to side, I have another girl that hates if you touch her other then the bag while milking and perfer to be milks out on both sides from one side only, she is one of the few that you can also put the bucket down and two hand milk from under, and I have a third girl that perfer to be milked from the rear, its her teat placement that seems to be more comfortable to her, with the milking down and slightly back instead of under and more forward.
Once a week or so I use bag balm but I have not had a issue with my sheep in this regards, come to think about it though as a hair sheep, I have a very clean underline and bag milking area, you might want to consider trimming out a wool sheep down there to help keep things clean.
Once you let her off leash, she is free to join the other sheep for the day until evening chores when she should come in for a tiny bit of grain or cubes or something that she likes etc.
The milk should be taken to the house and strained and I use glass jars to store mine in and into the back area of the fridge for cooling..
Ok, I hope this helps explains the basic’s.. got questions fire away..