Dairy sheep

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I posted this query on the "Goats vs. Cows(dairy)" (?) thread earlier at http://greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=000zqi but I was too late to get a response, so I'm re-posting here.

Has anyone considered or have experience with dairy sheep? There's a lot more sheep milk cheese eaten than most people notice, and even in England sheep milk has a long history (check Chaucer). East Friesian breed sheep reads well: high milk yield, good cream content, good carcase, high lambing percentage with the milk to support them and grow them fast, and they give lots of (coarse) wool as well. Also their milk doesn't contain the capric/caproic(?) acid that is released to give the "goaty" taste to goat's milk. Sounds on paper as if this breed has everything going for it that a combination of Boer, dairy and cashmere goats do. I'm leaning that way, although I can't do it yet. I do know that sheep don't need nearly as good a fence as goats or cows, and don't do fences the damage that cattle will. I can outfight, outrun and outthink most sheep too, whereas with cows and goats I'm not so sure. Dairy sheep is all theory with me though - real world experience welcomed.

P.S. Goat meat (except Billies) is a lot like mutton, only very lean. That's fine by me, but some people don't like mutton - can't understand that.

Regards, Don Armstrong

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), July 06, 1999


Is there lactose in sheep milk? They would be better for me to keep than goats. Goat chillie is great, goat burger?

-- && (&&@&&.&), July 07, 1999.


I saw your post on the other thread, but don't know a thing about sheep myself. Look at the links I posted on the other thread here, How to Care for Goats. As I was refreashing my memory on the links before posting, I remember several references to sheep on them. If you don't get an answer, e-mail me and I will give you the name of someone who can probably lead you in the right direction.

The above thread Don mentioned is below:

Dairy Goats vs Cow

-- Lilly (homesteader145@yahoo.com), July 07, 1999.

Don...you must live in Angora goat country. They have a tendency to taste like mutton. Other goats don't. There are no breeds of dairy sheep in the US. They are primarily in Europe and we are not allowed to import. However, there are sheep in this country that are pretty good milk producers and individuals have taken these sheep and culled for the highest production and are milking them. There is a dairy sheep/cheese factory just outside of NYC. Probably the best sheep to start with would be the Cotswold, which is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the world. I used to have a flock of them and since they are on the endangered list, they can cost you a few bucks. I would try contacting Hollow Road Farms, Inc., RR 1 Box 93 Stuyvesant, NY 12173. These are the people who have developed the US sheep into milk producers. Hope this helps.

Taz....who helped them write their USDA grant many moons ago.

-- Taz (Tassie @aol.com), July 07, 1999.

Thanks for the post - I had been wondering about sheep for milk. I have 2 goats for milk, an Alpine and Oberhasli/Alpine mix (not freshened yet). I live on 1/3 acre in a rural farming community but face zoning laws which prohibit livestock. I have great neighbors but am always worried during the day, listening for the goats to complain and then rushing out to see what it is THIS time..... did the ducks wash in their water, did a chicken step on their alfalfa.... oh poor BABIES... I really do like them and look forward to buying a bigger place with fewer restrictions next year (if TS does not HTF) but am very interested in quieter options for milk (and have always wanted to learn to spin yarn!). I look forward to more posts along this line.

-- Kristi (securx@succeed.net), July 07, 1999.

We have raised sheep of several breeds, both commercial types and rare breeds -- and we have milked sheep for our own use. Sheep milk is richer than typical dairy goat milk (thicker, higher fat content). Good breeds that are readily available for milking are: Targhee, Polypay, Lincoln, various crosses of same. Have no experience with Cotswold, but luv that wool!

Sheep raised for milk become "human tame" -- and don't let the popular stories about sheep fool you -- these animals are just as much of a nuisance as pet goats. They'll open barn doors, scamper across your baled hay, and figure a way to rustle open your grain bins. They will readily learn to hop up into the milkstand, and will start baaing noisily in the barnyard if you are late getting out to milk. These are not dumb animals, and they are not small animals. (A Targhee ewe can easily top 180 pounds at maturity.) My husband has the scars to prove it!

A typical dairy sheep won't give you anywhere near what a goat will give -- perhaps two quarts daily if you've got a really good animal. This lactation won't last 10 months, either -- if you get six months of milk out of your ewes, you've got an excellent producer.

The milk has, to me, a "sheepy" flavor -- rather like the smell of lanolin in the wool. This is the product of genetics, and can't be eliminated by changing feeds.

Sheep teats are quite small, perhaps 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. We had a ewe once that had 3" teats, but she was quite old and never tolerated hand-milking. As any dairy-person can tell you, the smaller the teat, the more the trouble in milking -- you can't hardly grab them small ones, much less force the milk out.

On the plus side, sheep milk freezes well and doesn't separate when it thaws. You can get A LOT of cheese from sheep's milk, since the solid-to-liquid ratio is so high. However, the cheese has a distinct unique flavor....true rocquefort is made from sheep's milk, but it has that bleu mold in it which disguises the taste.

If you haven't raised sheep before, I would strongly discourage the idea that you're just "gonna up and do it" for y2k. The difficulty with shearing the animals annually (or twice annually) hasn't even been addressed -- and without electrical shears, you'll spend hours upon hours just getting your first one done (this is the voice of experience, by the way). Sheep are such naturally hardy animals that they will stay with the flock until they are at death's door -- and you won't find them sick until they have crossed the threshold. You will need 2-3 years of sheep raising to understand the animals well enough to KEEP them well, much less to be able to rear a ewe for milk. Sheep will die because of something you did, or something you didn't do -- and you can't afford dieoffs when your life, and your children's lives, might depend on the outcome.

Goats are much simpler to keep, easier to handle, quicker to milk, and they'll let you know when something bothers them.

Anita E.

-- Anita Evangelista (ale@townsqr.com), July 07, 1999.

I have had sheep and goats all of my life. There are 56 chromosone difference between the two. Two are in the fact that the sheep hold their tails down and a goat holds the tail up. The other 54 are in the brain.!! Goats are sooooooooooo much smarter and more personal than sheep. I will agree that some sheep are smart and I think this is especially true in the older breeds such as the Cotswold, Lincoln, etc.

Taz...who still spins and weaves a little.

-- Taz (Tassie @aol.com), July 07, 1999.

not true re; no dairy sheep in this country. they have been imported into Vermont and there are at least half a dozen sheep dairies up and running here with more coming on line this year. I have been writing on this subject so am familiar with it. e-mail me for more info/contacts if you wish.

Basically- East Friesians are a major improvement over those such as Dorsets for milk production. Their basic use is for cheese production- not fluid milk however. they are not cheap- quite a few thousand apiece. Cross-bred Friesians with say Dorset are avaialble too- are cheaper. Can obtain these, breed to a pure Friesan ram and "breed Up" to a pure flock over time. Predator protection is a MUST if you get into these sheep- unless you've got $$ to burn. They are also very sweet natured and have nice wool as well.

-- farmer (hillsidefarm@drbs.com), July 07, 1999.

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