If you are looking to raise dairy sheep for milk then you are also probably interested in the topic of sheep milk production. You have to be aware of the fact that different breeds of sheep will produce different quantities of milk but the breed of sheep is not the only factor in the quantity of sheep milk that a ewe will produce.
In order to understand how much milk a sheep produces it is probably a good idea to understand cow milk production and goat milk production as well. A lot more people have raised those animals for milk in the past and so they could be a point of reference when you want to see how much milk you will be obtaining from a sheep.
The average lactation period for a dairy breed of sheep can be up to 240 or around 8 months. Most dairy sheep farmers will milk each ewe for about 6 months which is about 180 days of lactation. A non-dairy ewe can have lactation periods from 90-150 days.
A dairy sheep will produce at most, 1100 lbs of sheep milk during a 180 day lactation. They can produce anywhere from 400 to 1100 pounds during their entire lactation. A ewe producing an average 750lbs of milk during 180 day lactation, will supply a dairy farmer with about a half-gallon of milk per day.
Like goat’s milk, sheep milk is naturally homogenized so cream does not separately as easily as cow milk. The butterfat content and protein content of sheep’s milk is higher than that of cow’s milk.
The high protein content allows one to make more cheese from sheep’s milk than from the equivalent amount of goat’s milk. 2 gallons of milk will be good for your pressed hard and semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, parmesan, pecorino, havarti, etc.
2 gallons worth of milk will give you a small wheel of cheese 4″-6″ in diameter and about 1-2 inches high depending on the type of milk, diameter of the mold and the pressing weight. 1 gallon of cheese will be enough to make 4 quarts of your favorite yogurt, like sheep yogurt. A 1/2 gallon of cheese will be perfect for some soft cheeses like chevre. 1 quart of cream will produce about 1 pound of butter.
Cups and pints of milk are enough milk to make soap or ice cream. Ice cream expands as it is made so you don’t need much milk and for milk soaps, the milk usually only makes up a portion of the recipe. In these recipes, a little goes a long way.
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.
I really can’t tell 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.
It stands to reason that sheep with a proven tendency to raise their lambs should be given the edge in the selection process, Also some 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.
Sheep are sometimes temperamental, you should therefore train your ewes to feed at the stanchion even before they lamb in order to enable them get used to the device.
Remember that the critters always seek out the highest ground for rest and sleep so if you place the milking parlor on a rise then your sheep will trot right home to it at the end of the day and also never use the milking stanchion to immobilize the ewes when you shear them or pear their hoofs such carelessness can make your sheep associate the stand with unpleasantness and they will refuse to let down their milk when they near it.