Sheep Milk Production
If you are looking to raise dairy sheep for milk then you are also probably interested in the topic of sheep milk production. Different breeds 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. To understand how much milk a sheep produces it is probably a good idea to understand cow milk production and goat milk production. A lot more people have raised those animals for milk in the past and so they are a could point of reference when you want to see how much milk you will be obtaining from a sheep.
Cow Milk Production:
The average lactation period for a dairy cow is 305 days. In that time a cow can produce around 22,000 pounds of milk. At 8.6 lbs of milk per gallon, this comes out to approximately 8 gallons of cow milk per day. Those numbers are for a Holstein, that is the breed of cattle with the highest milk production and it is what most dairy farmers in the US, use for milk production. Something like a Jersey cow, which many dairy farms also keep due to the high butterfat content of their milk, can produce anywhere from 1 to 6 gallons of rich milk per day.
Goat Milk Production:
The average lactation period for a dairy goat is 290-305 days. The full sized breeds can produce 6-8 pounds or 3 to 4 quarts of milk per day during their lactation. Dwarf breeds, such as the Nigerian Dwarf produce around 1 to 2 quarts per day if they are from good milking lines. Fat in goat milk tends to be higher than that of cow milk depending on the breed. Saanens generally produce a milk with 3-4% butter fat, similar to cow's milk. Nigerian Dwarfs produce a milk with a higher butter fat content, anyway from 5-9% in some animals and breeds like the Nubian an LaMancha fall somewhere in between the Saanens and Nigerians. In general, Alpine/Swiss breeds will produce milk with lower butterfat than African derived breeds. The milk of goats is naturally homogenized and so cream does not separate as readily as it does in cow milk.
Sheep Milk Production:
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 a 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.