Getting Started With Milk Sheep on the Homestead, Part 2: Choosing and Caring for Sheep


East Friesian Cross Milk Sheep 

East Friesian cross milk sheep breed

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed getting your housing and supplies together for keeping milk sheep. Once that is done, you are ready to bring home your flock.

Choosing and Buying Sheep for Milking

There are several different breeds of milk sheep worldwide, but in America most are mixed breeds. East Friesian and Lacaune mixes are most common and many also have wool breeds mixed in to improve the quality of the wool. As you begin looking for dairy sheep, you might find that you are somewhat limited by what is available near you since they are somewhat rare in the USA. Because most are mixes and they are not very common here, there can be a huge variance in milk production from flock to flock, and even from ewe to ewe. Asking the right questions and doing your research will help ensure you end up with ewes that fulfill what you are looking for.

Consider lineage. When choosing a milk sheep, you want to be sure that they come from lines with proven good dairy qualities. If you are looking at a proven ewe, there are several questions you should ask. How much milk did she produce on average last season? In large scale milking, milk amounts are measured in pounds and often are per milking season. For small homesteads like ours, I like to talk in quarts per day, since it is more understandable and reasonable for the backyard homesteader.

Will you be milk-sharing? Milk production varies a lot with dairy sheep, and it also varies with how they are managed. Milk-sharing with a lamb (or two) and once-a-day milking will give lower amounts than twice-a-day milking with no lambs on. At our farm we milk-share with our lambs. Our best producers give us about a quart at once-a-day milking when sharing with one lamb for 12 hours a day. After weaning the lamb at three months of age, our best producers give us ½ gallon per day when milking twice a day. 

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