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More About Milk Sheep: Ewes, Lambing and Feeding Tips

Important advice from a reader about raising milk sheep, lambing and sheep milk production.

| July/August 1975

  • 034-061-01
     A happy, healthy sheep is a twin producing, long-lived sheep, I say!

  • 034-061-01

I'd like to add my two bits' worth to How to Raise Milk Sheep: From Lambing to Sheep Milk Production. We've been milking some of our woollies for a while now and I think I have a few relevant comments to offer, as the topic of raising milk sheep and sheep milk production requires more attention.

First, let me tell you, it's not easy to find information about dairy sheep, and I question the feedback's statement that "livestock books can tell you which domesticated breeds make the best mothers". I feel such works generalize, and I sometimes suspect that their authors have spent very few nights in sub-zero weather crawling around the barn floor getting reluctant lambs to nurse, putting iodine on navels, and so on. If you write for breed association brochures, the pamphlets all brag about their favorites' mothering ability and milk production, which leads me to question the overall validity of the information they present.

When it came to production, the Dorset people bragged the most, so I cornered the head honcho around here — a fellow whose family has raised the breed since the turn of the century — and learned that even Dorsets can't compete with dairy goats for output. According to a study done at Cornell University, common domestic sheep produce 1 ½ to 2 ½ quarts of milk a day, which means that the best of the lot just equal our neighbor's worst milch doe. Much as we like their milk and its products, our ewes ain't Jersey cows by a long shot, and I'll have to challenge the feedback writer's remarks about the "generous quantity" of a sheep's milk yield.

Our Experience Milking Sheep

Anyhow, about our own experience: We milked one of our old ladies twice a day for six weeks and she gave a smashing quart each time — no more, no less — with no sign of drying up when we quit the experiment.

We've had some problems selecting other ewes to milk. Two of ours have tiny teats, and the one that's most productive — judging by the large, fat twins she has each year — stands very nicely for me, but I nearly went crazy trying to get hold of those teeny faucets! The fattest gal in the flock has teats about 3 ½ inches long, and an udder nearly as large as that of our neighbor's poorest dairy goat. The doe's owners insist that Fatty is our best prospect, but the ewe herself isn't any too thrilled about being milked. We'll try her again next lactation; she seems to be getting friendlier in her old age.

"It takes 20 minutes to milk a sheep," says the author of the feedback. Sure, at first before you develop "milker's hands" and get a bit of cooperation from the ewes. We eventually brought our time down to 10-14 minutes altogether for two milkings (which is still longer than the process takes for a goat).

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