One of my Katahdin Ewes, Fergie, lambed on Saturday March 4, 2011. The lamb has been with mom for a week now so this past Friday (3/11/2011) I decided to start separating mom and lamb at night so that I may milk the ewe in the morning.
I lock the lamb up in a small dog crate in the same shelter as the ewe. This allows them to be together but the lamb can’t nurse. I do the same when I start milking my goats. I put some fresh hay, grain and water in with the lamb so he can get uses to eating such things on his own and so he is prepared for weaning which won’t happened until he is about 2 months old.
I have 2 ewes. Fergie, the wild one and Mary the much friendlier one. So far only Fergie has lambed so she is my only source of sheep milk. This evening I attempted to milk her. I knew she really wouldn’t have any since her lamb had been with her all day but need to start getting her used to the stanchion at some point and the whole milking process. After all this is why I have sheep. Well today I learned that sheep are STRONG and pulling one about 300 feet across a yard is quite the workout. I even lost her once and had to start back from the beginning. Her lamb also had to come with her or both would be screaming to loud and I do have very close neighbors that have yet to complain about my hobbies and I’d like to keep it that way.
After much pulling and baaing and panting from me I finally got her to the stanchion which is in my shed. And I lifted her onto it, 3 feet off the ground. It’s really built for my mini goats and not a 120lb sheep so I will have to come up with a better way of getting her up there but just getting her too it is enough work for me right now.
One she was locked in and had food in front of her she was surprisingly still. I could milk her no problem. I have a wild doe that will jump, squat and basically do anything to avoid my hands on her udder when she is up there. So I expected the same from this huge sheep but she was quite cooperative even if she was screaming her head off.
I got a feel for milking her. Sheep teats are pretty small but I have Nigerian Dwarf goats and their teats are pretty much the same size. So my year of milking mini goats has really prepped me for milking sheep. The technique is slightly different in that you do really have to ‘punch up’ there every time you squeeze for some milk whereas a goat teat will fill itself more readily it seems.
I only got a few drops this evening so nothing measurable. I put her back with her herdmates and locked up the kid in the dog crate.
This morning I milked my goat then when right for the ewe to milk. Once again I had to drag her across the yard with her lamb following. It took a little less time this time because she ran in the right direction a few times. Not sure if she is already learning but I’ll take it!
I got her on the stand and cleaned her udder. It was much tighter than the night before since her lamb has no chance to nurse. The milk came out very easily. I was using my traditional method of milking into an applesauce jar with a funnel and coffee filter inside the funnel. Unfortunately, this method does not seem to work with sheep’s milk. The milk would not pass through the coffee filter. Perhaps too much milk solids? I think for sheep’s milk it’s best to strain with a fine metal mesh.
Anyway, I probably milked the sheep for about 5 or 10 minutes. I gout about 12 oz this first time. I stopped because of how loud her and her lamb were being. I could have gotten more out of her but I figure any measurable amount was good for this first real milking. I will attempt to get more tomorrow morning. One thing I notices is that yesterday when her udder was fairly empty and today when it was who knows how empty, it still looked and felt pretty full so this ewe or breed or sheep in general must have meaty udders that don’t actually inflate or deflate according to how much milk they have in there.
I milked the ewe again today. It was a little easier to get her to the stand with her running in the right direction again. This time she was a little quieter burying her face in the feed and putting the lamb in my lap while I milked, really quieted him down too. I milked for about 15 minutes and managed to get about 18 ounces out of her. That a little over two cups. I only milk her once a day now and I have no idea how long she will be in lactation for especially after her lamb is weaned but I can estimate that if I milked her twice a day, she would give about 2 cups at each milking. Two cups is a pint, 4 cups is a quart which is almost equal to one liter. One liter seems to be about the average amount a non-dairy ewe will give. I actually read anything from 0.5 liters to 2.0 liters a day is typical from a ewe that is not a dairy breed or dairy breed cross. I also read that gauging how good a ewe will be as a milker, usually comes after the lamb is weaned because some will dry up immediately after their lamb is no longer suckling. So this will really be the test to see how good these katahdins are as milkers. It may just be that I will only get about 7 weeks of milk from them but sheep’s doesn’t come out of any other animal and this is all I have to work with right now, so I’m not complaining.
Well some time has passed. I’ve been milking Fergie for two months now and everything is going pretty smoothly. It only took about a week for her to settle into the routine without complaint. Currently I am milking one goat, my sheep Mary then Fergie is last. Fergie waits patiently to be milked. I moved the stanchion into their shelter. Space is tight in there but it saves me a lot of time walking or dragging sheep across the yard although now that they are into the milking routine, I am pretty sure they would follow me across the yard to milk but it still takes more time that way.
My other sheep, Mary, is also being milked. She lambed a month after Fergie and as with Fergie, I allowed Mary’s lambs to be with her 24/7, then after a week, I locked them up at night so I could milk her in the morning. Mary produces almost twice as much milk as Fergie. I’m sure this is for a few reasons. Mary has twins and so she needs to produce more milk, Mary is also in the beginning of her lactation while Fergie is towards the end with a well grown lamb who nurses much less than he did when he was a week or even a month old. It could also be that Mary is just a better milk producer. Mary is slimmer than Fergie and I have read that dairy animals are slimmer than their meat counterparts as all their energy goes into making milking, not putting on muscle and fat. And with Katahdins still being a fairy new breed of sheep, you will still find a lot of variation within the breed.
I am not sure how much I am getting from either ewe because I milk them into the same jar. They produce what looks like `30 oz everyday and this is still only once a day milking.This morning I milked my one doe and ewes into a jar and I had over 50 oz.
Between my one Nigerian doe and the two Katahdin Ewes, I am getting about 2 gallons of milk a week. All of which goes to cheese. I will update again when the lambs are weaned or later in lactation to see how long these ewes will give milk.
Unfortunately I didn’t keep very good records milking my katahdin sheep this year. I hope to keep better records about how much milk I got from them in Spring of 2013. I will say with my individual sheep I found that Fergie completely forgot about the whole milking process. It took her a week to get back into the groove before she actually wanted to get on the stand and tied getting milked with being fed. Mary, on the other hand, took to the stand like a pro. So it just goes to show how these sheep, and any livestock, have varying personalities even with the same breed.
I did want to take good udder pics this year so that people can see that katahdin udders do fill up quite nicely but all I have is a pic of Mary’s udder, not very close up, from the day after she lambed. She is not full in that pic.
I’m expecting lambs in early March 2013 so I will be recording how much milk I get from my Katahdins this year. This year will be their 3rd year lambing.
1/13/2013- Today I traded one of my 2012 lambs for a 2 year old Katahdin ewe and as luck would have it, she lambed in November and was still in milk when I got her. So I decided to milk her and keep records of how much milk she gave.
1/14/2013 – I milked her for the first time this morning. I put her on the stand last night to see how she would take to it and she handled it very well. She did not try to get out of it at all. My other two katahdins really needed at least a week to acclimate to the stand but this one took to it right away. I’m not sure if she was put in a stand before but she was definitely never milked and she had no problems except for some minimal kicking.
I ended up with around 22oz of milk from her on this morning. That is a slight estimate because she kicked half of it over. I am only milking her once a day. I am not sure how long she will keep with this amount since she lambed in November and it is currently Mid-January. They are already on a steep decline by this point.
1/15/2013 – I milked her again this morning and got 20oz. She is has no problem with the stand now. Still a little bit of kicking. The hardest thing is getting her to the stand.
1/16/2013 – I went to milk her this morning and her udder was not nearly as full as the first two days. I only got 10 oz from her this morning. No kicking on the stand so that is good.
1/17/2013 – Only 5 oz this morning. I have to wonder if she is done now. It’s been a very steep decline. The last time she had the lamb on her was on 1/13/2013/. So you can see how quickly they dry up once the lamb is weaned. I had been milking her in the morning and giving her grain on the stand but no milking or grain in the evening. I am wondering if I try to milk her and give her grain this evening, if her production will go back up. I will try and see but this is one of the main issues with milking non-dairy sheep. They only make milk for their lambs and dry up without demand. I still highly recommend milking your meat sheep pr whatever sheep you have because the milk is worth it and why pass t up?
My total from this ewe for right now is 1.5 quarts, that’s less than what I listed above because she kicked some over the first day. This is enough rich sheep milk for a quart of yogurt or some chèvre or maybe some butter or ice cream. Unfortunately not enough for any hard cheeses but I expect to get much more when my other two ewes are lactating.
Tonight I got about 4 oz from her.
1/18/2013 – AM – 6 oz PM – 5 oz
I’ll probably continue this twice a day milking for another week before I decide to let her dry up since as I said she is kind of far in her lactation and without a lamb demanding milk, she doesn’t seem to be producing much.
1/19/2013 – AM – 4 oz PM – 4 oz
1/20/2013 – 7AM – 5 oz 9PM – 8 oz
1/21/2013 – AM – 4.5 oz PM – 6 oz
1/22/2013 – AM – 5 oz PM – 5 oz
1/23/2013 – AM – 5 oz PM – too cold to milk.
1/24/2013 – AM – 10 oz(higher volume because I did not milk the night before) PM – 4 oz
If you’re interested in learning more about milking sheep then please visit my other website – www.milkingsheep.com