How to Raise Milk Sheep: From Lambing to Sheep Milk Production

A feedback response covering the basics of raising and caring for milk sheep, including feeding and milking, pregnancy and lambing.

| September/October 1974

  • 029-076-01
     The amazing thing to us is that sheep's milk is so seldom used in the United States. It's excellent in quality, mild in flavor (somewhere between cow's and goat's milk, with less aroma than the latter) and is produced in generous quantity.

  • 029-076-01

In a 1974 issue, MOTHER EARTH NEWS appealed to readers for information on milk sheep. The appeal was answered with the following article, reprinted by permission from Thomas Paine Ditto Works. Copyright 1974 by The House Organ. 

Answering this appeal about raising milk sheep both gives me a chance to play "know-it-all" and to tell you that Anastasia, our canny old Suffolk ewe, has — once again — saved herself from a mutton chop finale, this time by feigning pregnancy until she'd captivated the hearts of her new patrons, T. and J. We can only smile at Anastasia's success since she taught us almost all we know about sheep — including how to handle ewes during pregnancy and lambing, and about the joys of milking sheep and drinking sheep milk. Bruce Lansdale of the American Farm School in Salonica, Greece, taught us the rest. Around the Mediterranean, sheep's milk is more highly prized than the cow's product and is the fourth crop (after wool, mutton and lambs) of this docile ruminant.

I don't know which breeds of the animal make the best milkers, although around the Mediterranean basin Barbary sheep are held in high esteem. When selecting a type, you probably should consider your location (environment, altitude and latitude), the breed's sheeping ratio and its mothering qualities. We tend to think that sheep with a proven tendency to raise their lambs should be given the edge in the selection process. Livestock books can tell you which domesticated breeds in this country make the best mothers.

Any sheep can be a milk sheep — provided that it's female, has recently had a baby and has been trained to supply milk at the convenience of a human rather than at the demand of the yeanling. As with other mammals, a great deal depends on getting the ewe to "let down" her milk. She may be a good producer, but the skill of her owner is what relaxes her and gets the white nectar into the pail. This requires both authoritative handling and a stanchion at which the sheep learns to feed while being milked.

The Stanchion

Since sheep are sometimes temperamental, you should train your ewes to feed at the stanchion even before they lamb so they'll get used to the device. Remember that the critters always seek out the highest ground for rest and sleep; if you place the "milking parlor" on a rise, your sheep will trot right home to it at the end of the day. And never use the milking stanchion to immobilize the ewes when you shear them or pare their hoofs. Such carelessness can make your sheep associate the stand with unpleasantness, and they'll refuse to let down their milk when near it.


During pregnancy, the ewe's bag becomes larger and wool-covered, and the lady resembles a ram from the rear, discouraging aggressive behavior from any males in your flock. A ewe's udder will become obviously swollen shortly before delivery and — if it becomes engorged with milk — will need to be treated with bag balm and massaged. This congestion might happen often if the animal is being overfed, particularly with grain. The sheep is what is called an "efficient converter" of grain into milk, but overfeeding a ewe during pregnancy can cause engorgement and a fat fetus, resulting in a more difficult birth.


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Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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