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Nursing Mother Struggling with Dairy Sheep Ethics

 
Destiny Hagest
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This may sound a little ridiculous, but I'm currently breastfeeding my 8 month old son, and plan to continue until he's ready to wean. We don't consume much dairy here, but enough to where we've considered raising some dairy sheep at some point. I'm having difficulty with the idea of separating the lamb from its mother, even just at night to get milk in the morning - I know if my baby had to spend the night away from me, he would be a mess, and it breaks my heart to think of doing it to a lamb.

Don't laugh, these hormones are making me an emotional mess over here.

So my thinking is, I know that my body responds to my baby, and that if he needs more milk and nurses more, my body automatically produces it. So in theory, if a ewe was to only have one lamb, would I be able to stimulate enough supply in her with frequent milking throughout the day to get enough for my household, since sheep are capable of birthing multiples?

Is this completely nutty? I feel like the biology should work the same, but I was curious to learn what you permies had to say on the topic.
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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Not nuttty. Totally doable if your goal isn't absolutely the most possible milk yield for your use.

I *know* there's a book on this, but I can't remember the name of it for the life of me. I'm going to keep digging and will be back with the title if I can find it.
 
Rose Pinder
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I've known people who've kept goats for milk use at home and who don't separate the young from the mother. I've bought milk from them so they must have excess beyond the young animals needs and their own household. I've just assumed that's normal unless you have reasons for separation like maximising production in relation to feed costs/land size etc.

I'm with you on the ethics thing.
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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Haven't found the book, but here's a cute blog post I came across that touches on the subject: https://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/how-to-wean-a-calf-or-not/
 
Destiny Hagest
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You are all so fantastic and understanding I was almost worried I'd get some eye rolls. As I understand it it's standard procedure even in small operations to separate the calves/lambs/kids from their mother by a month old at the latest. I would think I could just leave them together though and milk her, and still get plenty for our household. I pump my own milk to donate to a local milk bank, and to increase supply I just add a pumping session and I get a bit more eventually.

I mean, I'm just another milking animal, so I would think it would be the same. But I'm 25 and not at all familiar with conventional dairy farming, let alone organic/humane options, so I just wasn't sure. This is all still pretty new to me.
 
Katy Whitby-last
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We have milking goats and never separate kids from mums even overnight. If they have twins we just take a minimal amount from mum until the kids are about 4 months old when they naturally start to take less. As mum weans them we get more.
 
R Ranson
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What a wonderful opportunity to apply your own experiences to raising dairy animals. Well done you. Of course, (with a few exceptions) humans aren't sheep, but what you describes chimes perfectly with my understanding and observations of ewes.


Personally I don't understand why the books say to separate the young from the mums prior to milking... except maybe that this way you can milk to YOUR schedule and only do one milking per day. I've read the justifications these books give, but they don't seem to relate to what I've observed other farmers doing.

In actual practice, most of the farmers I know with dairy sheep and goats approach it quite differently.

Some milk twice a day, morning and night, starting fairly early in the lactation cycle. Some leave a little milk behind for the young, others milk dry after the young has had his fill.

Some I've seen milk a tiny bit right from day one, just a few squeezes. With the theory that this get the ewe use to being handled, but they don't start milking in earnest until the lamb is eating hay, or sometimes after weaning.

Most goat mums I know don't milk until the kid is eating lots of hay or weaned - but goats are a bit different as they can keep lactating for years - up to 10 - with proper nutrition and milking schedule.

I haven't milked any of my animals yet, but I think when I do, I'll will probably wait till the lamb or kid is nibbling on solids, then probably do one milking in the evening. Leaving the kid or lamb with the mum for the other 23 and a half hours of the day. I choose this way because when I look at other local farmers, looking at their milk supply (for breed) and the health of their animals (overall and by the end of lactation) this is the schedule that seems to be kindest on the sheep or goats. I know nothing about lactating humans, but with goats and sheep, having the right minerals and nutrition seem to have more to do with milk flow than any other factor (except perhaps a consistent daily schedule).

When you do start milking your ewes, please let us know your method and how it goes.

 
Destiny Hagest
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Thank you so much, I definitely will! This has been a dream of mine for a couple of years now, but I'm hoping to get it started in the coming spring. There's lots of fencing to do in the mean time, and we need to purchase a trailer to haul them in as well. I really like the idea of starting off milking a minimal amount - I equate it to using my breast pump initially with feedings to help me establish my supply. Lactating women and their babies call this cluster feeding, where the baby nurses every 20-60 minutes for a day or so to get mom's supply up. It works like a charm, even if it is exhausting

Thank you all so much for your insight, I was really starting to get the impression that this just couldn't be done, but now I feel like I can leave them together as a family and they'll be just fine, and we can still get more than enough milk for our needs. We try to follow a paleo diet, but my husband loves yogurt, and I'm addicted to cheese myself. I feel this is a fair compromise.
 
R Ranson
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I was really starting to get the impression that this just couldn't be done, but now I feel like I can ...


Looks like the You-can't-cha beasts almost got their grubby mitts on you. They are very loud and noisy creatures with their braying song of youchantcha do this youcantcha do that.

So glad you asked your question.

If individual people keep asking questions, and keep experimenting, then maybe we can reduce the Youcantcha beast infestation to more manageable levels.
 
Destiny Hagest
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R Ranson wrote:
I was really starting to get the impression that this just couldn't be done, but now I feel like I can ...


Looks like the You-can't-cha beasts almost got their grubby mitts on you. They are very loud and noisy creatures with their braying song of youchantcha do this youcantcha do that.

So glad you asked your question.

If individual people keep asking questions, and keep experimenting, then maybe we can reduce the Youcantcha beast infestation to more manageable levels.


Hahaha! So true! I love you permie people!
 
Lila Stevens
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I have a few dairy goats, and am also a nursing mom. My daughter is nearly 2 and showing no signs of quitting any time soon! I also believe animals are people, with thoughts and feelings, if perhaps a bit simpler than ours, and try to treat them as kindly as possible. That they love their children, I have no doubt.

You can separate at night if you want, but I don't think you have to. I did it with one baby boy goat, starting at 6 weeks old. I put baby in a stall right next to mom, with other young goats. Mom had another adult goat for company. My stalls are built from pallets, so mom and baby could see and smell eachother through the slats. Neither seemed to mind much, even the first night. I fed the young goats at night to get them into the stall easily, and all, including baby boy, were happy to go in there and get their dinner.

I did not really get much more milk over a 24 hour period by separating them. I did get more milk in the morning, before putting them back together, but got less milk in the evening, since baby would drink more all day to compensate for not nursing at night. I did get slightly more over a 24 hour period, but not enough to make much difference. I can see that this strategy would be great though if I only wanted to milk once a day in the morning, because it definitely affects that morning milking.

And yes, milking multiple times a day will increase production, just like with humans. If you want to increase udder capacity and teat size, some people believe that separating babies at night, starting from a young age, will help with this. I have no direct experience of this (I am fairly new to goats), but here is an interesting article I read about it http://www.glimmercroft.com/Udder.html

I just wanted to add, you might want to consider goats instead of sheep, since, from what I've read, even the best dairy sheep have lower production and shorter lactations than most dairy goats. You may not consume a lot of dairy now, but when you have your own you may become more attracted to making cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc. My little household of 3 adults and 1 child can easily go through 1/2 gallon of goat milk a day. My daughter loves fresh goat cheese, and kefir smoothies. For me, milking day in and day out can be a bit of an austerity, and if I were only getting a few cups a day it would quickly lose it's charm. For me, anyway.
 
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