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Sheep Blog

All you need to know about milking sheep

Filtering by Tag: milking sheep

How Many Sheep to Raise for Milk?

If you are thinking about keeping a few sheep for milking, you are probably also wondering how many you should keep. While making this decision, you will have to take a few factors into consideration: How much space you have: If you have little space, then you will only be able to keep a few sheep. Stocking rates for sheep can be anywhere from 2 to 6 animals per acre, year round. The number of sheep you can keep on an acre depends on the quality of the forage. This number can be higher if you plan to supplement a lot of hay but that method is usually less cost effective. If you are just getting started with sheep and have at least an acre of pasture for them, then you would be safe starting with 2 or 3 sheep.

How much time you have: Of course the more time you have to spend with your flock, the more sheep you may have. Sheep are pretty low maintenance especially when kept using an extensive model with free-choice pasture year round but you have to consider how much time it will take to milk each sheep as well. Hand milking will take longer than machine milking and your small-scale milking machine will take longer to milk a few sheep than it would take a larger scale operation to make 10 or 20, just because of the differences in operation and set-up. You also have to consider time spend tending to the lambs if needed and maintenance on your sheep like hoof trimming, vaccinations and shearing if you have wool breeds.

How much milk you want: Before starting your dairy sheep venture, you should determine how much milk you go through in a week. This a great starting point to determine what your dairy needs will be and which breeds you need to keep. For example, my experience with milking katahdin sheep is that 2 ewes will produce at least 1 gallon per week but it can be up to 2 gallons per week. A third katahdin ewe would guarantee I had 2 gallons of sheep milk per week. 3 gallons of sheep milk would be enough for one to drink a gallon a week and use the other two gallons to make a 6" diameter wheel of pecorino romano. If you want to delve into what a dairy breed might produce, you could expect between 1 to 2 gallons of sheep milk per ewe from something like an east friesian.

Which dairy products you intend to produce: If you all want is milk and you have a small family, then you can certainly get by with only a few ewes, depending on the breed. However, if you are looking to make cheese, then you are going to be going through a lot more milk than if you were just drinking it. So you may want to consider keeping more sheep or only keeping dairy breeds of sheep.

As with most new things, one should always start slow and small because it can be easy to get overwhelmed. If the ewes don't meet your needs the first year then it is easy to scale up in following years. But if you start too big the first year, it make discourage you from continuing your venture in milking sheep and that would be a loss.

Icelandic Sheep for the Homestead

Icelandic sheep are an ancient breed of sheep. They have been bred for over a thousand years in the harsh interior of Iceland and now they are available to many sheep breeders around the world. Icelandic sheep were the only sheep available to the people of Iceland so they had to be a multi-purpose sheep breed. Many consider Icelandic sheep to be a triple-purpose breed of sheep. They can provide meat, wool and milk. Although they are almost exclusive bred for meat in Iceland. The lambs can weigh up to 90 pounds by 5 months of age and this is mostly on grass. The meat is said to have a delicate flavor unlike other wool breeds which tend to have a stronger flavor.

Icelandic Sheep, due to their history, are a very efficient breed of sheep to raise. Herd of these sheep were allowed to roam the hills of Iceland on their own during the winter months before they were brought in during the spring to lamb. These extreme conditions put a tremendous strain on the breed. This was definitely a survival of the fittest type situation. Only the hardiest and most efficient animals were able to survive the harsh winters to birth their lambs in the spring. The result of this natural selection is the breed of Icelandic Sheep we see today. A very low maintenance/high reward breed to have as part of a homestead.

Icelandic sheep are a wool breed but they roo or lose their undercoats in the spring making shearing somewhat optional yet it is still highly recommended especially in warm or hot climates. The wool can be separated into two parts, given the Icelandic names of Tog and Thel. The tog is the longer outer coat, this is a medium wool that can be used in weaving. The Thel, or undercoat, is a finer wool that can be used for knitting. This Thel is the part of the wool that sheds if the sheep is not sheared every spring.

As mentioned above, the Icelandic Sheep can also be used for milk production. They are not a true dairy breed, so they do not have the same lactation period and production amounts as dairy breeds of sheep but a small herd of ewes will produce plenty of rich milk for a small family. Milk which can also be used to make cheese and yogurt. A typical Icelandic sheep ewe can produce around 2 pints or 1 quart of milk a day, give or take. This is without the lamb suckling and they will produce like this for about 2 months. Some people remove the lamb at birth, feed them milk supplement and take all the mothers milk. This way the shepherd collects more milk per ewe. The lamb can also be left with the ewe full time for the first 1 to 2 weeks, then separated from the ewe at night and the ewe milked in the morning. Whichever method is chose, the Icelandic Sheep is a good source of milk for the homestead.

Once a rare breed in the US, the Icelandic sheep has been gain momentum. Many breeders can be found throughout the US and there are a few registries with breeder listings if you are looking for a breeder in your area. If you are looking for a breed that can be raised naturally, be very productive and provide your homestead with meat, fiber and milk than you need look no further than this astonishing breed.


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