No experience, but a little knowledge -- one of the primary dairy sheep breeds is French, so you should be able to find information there.
From a web-site: The East Friesian is the most common and productive breed of dairy sheep in the world. Their average production is 990 to 1,100 pounds per 220 to 240-day lactation. Two other highly productive breeds of dairy sheep are the fat-tailed Awassi and Assaf breeds from Israel. In France, the Lacaune is the breed of choice for making the country's famous Roquefort cheese. http://www.sheep101.info/dairy.html
Wondering at the lack of local sheep cheese, and the high prices of imported, I recently asked around in our local dairy goat community: why is no one raising dairy sheep?
I got the following answer, but I haven't seen it substantiated anywhere: the higher milk producing variety of sheep in the USA was hit with a disease (don't remember which, maybe scrapie) that decimated their numbers. Currently, if you want to breed these sheep, you have to import sperm from the UK, resulting in prohibitively high husbandry costs. Thus, sheep milk production in the USA is limited, and the product is pretty much more expensive than what the market will support.
Well this came about because I'd like a milk source for our family. It's not for commercial reasons, just for self-reliance. A cow seemed too big so we thought of goats. And indeed we have goats but they are a bit of a disaster area. I've now realised that you can't easily make butter from goats milk plus I'm fretting about the whole goat feeding issue (another subject). We have 17 acres of pasture. My sheep-keeping thus far has been more of a sucess than goats. So I began wondering if sheep were a real alternative.
I had then read that it was difficult to milk them (it would be by hand for us) and that they gave very little milk. So I wondered if anyone had any experience on here as I trust this resource.
Some questions that have been forming... Do they need to be kept in overnight so that they are there for milking in the morning? What sort of output would we get if we milked once a day and left the ewes feeding their babies? Do they need to be up on a table to milk them? Do they need to be 'trained' from very young? Are they likely to be less troublesome than goats?
Cows are big, but if you get a nice one, they are really really nice. Some can be led about by the collar by the most gentle and feeble of tugs. It's like they want you to show them where to go.
Hand milking a cow is a chore compared to a goat, but every animal is a chore.
A cow used to being milked will stand for you and I don't think it would usually be too much for a person that is able to milk a goat or a sheep.
posted 9 years ago
The only thing I might know about the subject is that sheep milk has the highest percentage of solids and thus gives more cheese per gallon than most any other animal (perhaps with the exception of water buffalo). If you're interested in making cheese, dairy sheep seem to be a very good idea.
From what I've heard they are slightly less of a hassle to keep in a fence than goats are, but only slightly.
They're big strong sheep and a bit more difficult that "normal" sheep to contain and do jobs like foot clipping.
Do they need to be kept in overnight... Nope, they come in when you call them or when your dog goes to get them.
What sort of output would we get if we milked once a day and left the ewes feeding their babies? Depends on each individual sheep - their personalities differ and some might not let down their milk for you.
Do they need to be up on a table to milk them? No, as long as you've only a few (and a good back) you can milk them on the ground.
Do they need to be 'trained' from very young? IMHO yes. The best way to do that is to feed the females by hand from birth. (See question on output.)
Hope that helps Alison and sorry about the delay in replying but I've only limited internet access because of snow on the solar panels !
We have finally our milk sheep. and we had two horned meat sheep before. Her character is hugely different to the other breed we had. She come when I call her, she likes to be patted and she let milk her. She likes walking on a lead like a dog and this is less a problem than with the other ones as she does not get very nervous neither with cars nor with dogs. This aspect might be important in winter when we're short o feed. It's an East Friesian. However, we must get a second one. For the milk. The lady I've bought the sheep from has one sheep which gives 1 1/2 litres per day. That's not very much and ours is in decline yet and it's a bit more than 1/4 l. And we milk twice. Next year she should give the double. Milking a sheep is a bit trickier than milking a goat (never tried a cow), and our kids still can't. And I think you need lots f strength in your hands. My husband built us a milkstand which I would really recommend for goats and sheep. I can sit on a milk box while milking. We decided for the sheep for two reasons: first we're nearly suburban and we can not have our goats in other peoples gardens. And the milk is more versatile. We don't like goat milk porridge or goat milk dessert. I like goat milk cheese and coffee with goat milk, but that's it. I cannot tell anything in regards to cheese making. If you want lambs for eating than it is better to let her to a usual ram and not a milker.
We used a Cameroon ram and one of our crosses was born this morning - a strapping lad - but his mum completely ignored him for the first hour or so after he was born. Anyway, we've sorted that out now and this is him after his first good feed.
So, Alison I should be able to give you a blow by blow account of how it goes with the milking.
Someone said that we'd need lots of sheep to give sufficient milk for our family of 5 (plus cheese making) and that we'd be better with a Jersey cow. I'm still pondering.
posted 9 years ago
Cute! I can't really tell how much milk, because we have only one and she is already declining and she is very young. I think it is up to 1 1/2 liter. But I think that they must see a buck each year. We take our on a lead and she wasn't trained young, it was very simple. It is definitely more tricky to milk them and I am still the only one in the family who can do the job. (Doe have men problems with milking??). She comes when she's called and she never runs away, they are not very wild. She does not like to run or to jump like the others we had.
posted 9 years ago
ediblecities, she sounds lovely. What makes sheep milking more difficult - length of teat? Wool in the way? Yes I think that like most milking mammals (except humans) they need to be pregnant each year though I believe that some will 'milk through' for two years.
Our current milk consumption (cows) is 5 litres over 3 days - 2 litres used for yoghurt making and the rest is drinking or cereal milk. I guess your girl's output would just about cover it but with no spare for cheesemaking nor ice-cream making. It's a great guide though as now I know that we'd need 2 minimum.
We also have Ouessant sheep including a ram - I'm guessing that we'd need to keep him out of the picture at mating time?
posted 9 years ago
Goats give milk for several years and don't need to be mated each year. I think it is the milking technique. I didn't have a problem, but my kids can't I think you need force and you need two hands for each teat.
posted 9 years ago
I am partial to the Icelandic breed of sheep, which is a '3-in-1' breed that can be used for milk, meat and wool. They are not specifically a dairy breed, and another breed might be better if you are only interested in milk production... but they are being used by some artisan cheese producers ... they are rugged and dependable, a multi-purpose animal well suited to homesteading and permaculture.
The wool is particularly long and soft, good for spinning or felting. The rate of reproduction is high (having twins is common, the flock can expand quicker). They can survive and even thrive on 100% pasture/hay/silage (although a bit of grain might help the pregnant ewes). The lamb meat is very tender and mild, lacks the muttony flavor and ram taint that is common in other breeds.
I don't know which breeds you can get where you guys are, although you mentioned Icelandic breeds, so maybe you can get Lleyn sheep too? The Lleyn is a Welsh milk sheep, which has four or more lambs as a matter of course. They are prolific milkers so they were traditionally used for making dairy products after weaning the lambs quite early on. Added to this, they have a superb fleece with a fine count which has little or no kemp (coarse guard hairs) in it, making it ideal for fine knitwear. As a spinner, I can tell you, a fleece with no kemp is very tempting If I ever see any for sale up here I will definitely add a couple to my little flock.
posted 9 years ago
What do you mean by prolific milker how many liter a day? But I think we will not have them in Australia and won't get them in the next 200 years anyway.
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association