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Looking for information on raising dairy sheep

 
Destiny Hagest
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My husband and I have recently decided it's time to get a few sheep to start providing our own dairy for ourselves. Though I've read sheep's milk is very rich and they're great dairy animals, I'm having a hard time finding specific information on the process of raising them. We've never raised dairy animals before so it's all new to us. Does anybody know of any good books or websites with info on breed selection, heritage breeds, lactation cycles, etc? We live in the northwestern US in the mountains and want to make sure we select a cold hardy breed. Any info would be hugely appreciated!
 
Kris schulenburg
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Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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Hi Destiny,

NCAT has information about dairy sheep and Andy Karras has articles and You tube videos that are helpful.

i have only been raising sheep for 2 years but have learned some things.

what i would think about is do you have the time and $ to get into pure breds? they cost more but lambs MAY sell for more.

do you want to milk for 6 months or just a couple?

Do you want hair sheep or wool sheep? I don't think there are any hair sheep "dairy" breeds but i have a Katahdin than gave over a quart a day for 4 months. she cost $100.

I have a East Freisian x Lacoune ram and he seams like any other sheep. I think the big difference is they give more milk and have longer lactation than most sheep. The dairy i got him from said his ewes average 1/3 gallon of milk a day. He milked from March till August and could have gone longer.
i am cross breeding because dairy sheep are rare and expensive around here.

I wont know how his Icelandic cross daughter milks for a couple months.

Dairy breeds that i know of are East Friesian, Lacoune, Assef and Awassie. There is a fare amount of info on the web

I think sheep handle cold better than heat as long as they have a 3 sided shelter.

if you want to know anything else i will answer if i can.

Good luck, sheep are awesome. (although, rams can get mean)

 
Destiny Hagest
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Awesome, thank you very much for the info! We have 6 months of winter where we are, but I'd still like to try and milk 6 months out of the year. Eventually I'd like to invest in other breeds, but for right now I'm only wanting to spend a couple hundred on getting the project started, so I guess more common breeds are in our future for now.

I'll check out those videos, thank you very much for the info! We go through a lot of dairy and I'm hoping this will start saving us money and giving us healthier foods-from what I've read sheep's milk is so nutritionally superior.
 
Kris schulenburg
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Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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three more thoughts. when looking for your sheep, udder size seems to matter (in a ewe that has lambed).
also this time of year might be good to find ewe lambs from a sheep dairy if there are any in your area. they may be a better price now if they want to milk and not raise babies. i Googled ''dairy sheep KY'' and found KY's only sheep dairy. (he had sold all the ewe lambs fast so i settled for the ram)
extension services or ag schools may also know of sheep dairies in your area
 
Destiny Hagest
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Oh thanks! There's actually a family up the road that raises sheep, I'm not sure what breed. I live in very rural central Montana, so it's tricky finding places like this unless you already know where they are. Going to stop in and talk to them and see if we can work something out-I think you're right about heritage breeds, it may be something we have to work up to.

I guess the questions I have are even more general, like how do you get them to lactate? Is it like raising goats and you have to get the female pregnant, then sell off the kids after 8 weeks? And do you have to do that every spring to maintain lactation?

So if that's the case, then would I need a ram and two females? And I read that people supplement their diets with grain when they're lactating, but if you have adequate forage do you still have to do that? I'd like to try and avoid diet additives.

I am so excited about starting this project, my grandparents have some land that will be perfect to raise them on, great forage, incredibly diverse ground cover. Thanks so much for your help, it's great to hear from someone else whose actually done this before!
 
Kris schulenburg
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Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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having a sheep person close is a great resource.
you have to breed every year. One ram can handle around 30 ewes from what ive read.
Artificial insemination is laproscopic surgery in sheep, which makes it impractical.
If you could bring your ewes to your neighbors at breeding time or share a ram it would save you a lot of headaches.
Rams can get mean or at least very pushy. It's much more enjoyable around here when Jethroe goes to visit Uncle Phil for the spring and summer.
Wool sheep usually go into heat in the fall (every 17 days fall-winter) and have a 4.5-5 month gestation depending on breed. Hair sheep can come in season anytime (usually)

after 3-4 weeks i am going to separate the babies for 8ish hours and creep feed them, milk the mommas and put them back together. That way we all benefit from the milk and if i can't milk for a day or 2 i don't have to worry about mastitis, won't get as much milk but are not tied to 2x a day milking.
i do feed a little grain (candy to a sheep) to keep them coming to me and to get to go where i want them. They don't like to be milked at first so if they are eating they are happier. if they are "trapped" in a stanchion or corner they usually calm down and get used to being milked. a 100lb sheep is a whole lot easier to deal with than a 1,000lb cow. Paul has a video on his Youtube channel for a pallet stanchion.

I think good quality pasture is good enough as long as it is diverse and has legumes. Read Adam Klaus's posts, he has a lot of good info (for cows but it applies to sheep)
You will probably need some good quality mixed legume hay for the winter to keep up their body condition and or get your rotational grazing/stock piling down to a science (still working on this).
The other big reason to rotate pastures is Barber pole worms. Hair sheep are more resistant (not immune). I almost lost my 2 Icelandics to worms last year because i did not move them soon enough. copper bolus worked on them. The eggs hatch in warm/wet (rain or heavy dew) 3 weeks after they are passed. in optimum conditions and can persist, waiting for optimum conditions for a year from what i have read. so move to a new pasture every 3 weeks (or sooner) and don't let them back for at least 30 days.

Its been fun talking about sheep! most people think i am crazy for milking sheep, digging ditches (swales) and worrying about sectioning off pastures.

Good luck!
 
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