Best Dairy Sheep Breeds for a Farm

Learn How to Start Dairy Farming with Sheep

Best Dairy Sheep Breeds for a Farm

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There are a few dairy sheep breeds you could add to your farm. The East Friesian sheep is considered the best breed of dairy sheep by researchers. The milk yield per lactation ranges from 1000 to 1500 pounds of milk. The milk is high in fat. Twin and triplet births are more common than singles with this breed.

Today, most of the sheep milk products are imported. Mediterranean countries are the biggest exporters of sheep dairy products. The sheep dairy demand is growing and a dairy farmer incorporating dairy sheep is in the right place at the right time. United States residents are realizing that sheep milk products can be a healthy alternative to cow milk.

Raising dairy sheep will take a good bit of acreage. People often ask: How many sheep can you raise per acre? The recommended stocking level is five to seven sheep per acre. The stocking rate is determined by the grazing quality, the size of the sheep, the flock size, and the availability of feed and shelter. The local agricultural extension agent can be of help when deciding how many sheep you should purchase.

Other Breeds for Sheep Dairy Needs

The Polypay, Icelandic, Dorset and the Finnish Landrace are other breeds occasionally seen on dairy sheep breeds lists. The Lacaune sheep breed, from France, produces the milk used to make Roquefort Cheese.

Icelandic Sheep

Look at the Health Benefits of Sheep Milk

Sheep milk is higher in all the nutritional components than cow milk and goat milk. It is rich and creamy with little to no stomach irritation associated with drinking sheep milk. However, sheep milk is harder to source in the United States than goat milk. As a consumer, this presents a problem. On the other hand, someone starting out with a dairy sheep breed could find an immense opportunity. Learning how to start dairy farming with sheep may be a great market to get involved in when building your home dairy business.

Sheep Housing, Care, and Health

Sheep are less picky about going out to pasture in the rain. A shelter should still be provided for the sheep, but you may very well find them grazing when it’s raining. Snow covered pastures will require supplemental hay feeding.

Hoof care is important for sheep. In addition to the hoof trim that is normally carried out at shearing time, trims will be needed other times during the year. The frequency of hoof trims will be affected by the ground where the sheep are located. Rocky ground will wear the hooves down naturally. On softer ground, the hooves will grow faster.

Other routine health care involves vaccines, physical exams, worm prevention and observation. Some routine tasks may be better suited to a veterinarian if you are inexperienced. Injections of vaccines and castrating take practice and repetition to learn well. It is a good idea to learn how to do as many of the tasks as you can, in case a veterinarian is not available. Helping a more experienced farmer is another way to learn the ropes of sheep care.

Facilities, Infrastructure and Milking Area

While sheep are mostly happy to be out in all sorts of weather, having a barn for illness or weather emergencies, or during lambing season is a good idea. The milking area will need to be clean and sanitary whether you are selling the milk or using it only for you family.

When choosing to keep both dairy goats and dairy sheep, look into whether you should pasture and house them together. It is commonly advised against, as parasite resistance differs for goats and sheep. Grazing the two species together can have unexpected consequences.

Milking  Ewes

Sheep kept for dairy purposes are milked twice a day. There are different methods used depending on the flock size. Some hand milk on stanchions. Larger dairy sheep facilities may use a pit set up. Ewes are milked from behind and the pit runs behind the sheep. The farmer attaches the milking machine tubes to the teats while standing in the pit. When hand milking, there are various postures that work and keep the ewe from foot shuffling, potentially spilling the milk.

Before milking the animal, clean the teats with an appropriate udder washing solution. Each teat is stripped of a stream of milk, which is discarded. This cleans the teats of bacteria. After milking, the raw milk is strained and cooled quickly.

The Sheep Milking Parlor

One of the biggest expenses in starting any dairy operation will be the milking parlor and equipment needed. This building or area should be separate from the area where the goats or sheep are housed. This is for cleanliness and sanitation reasons.

The basic set up will include a pathway for the sheep to enter the waiting area. Next, the sheep move to stalls for milking, and finally through an exit pathway. Depending on the size of your dairy herd, this setup can be simple or quite elaborate. The sheep will have their heads in what is called a head gate during the milking and most farms feed grain to the ewe in order to make this a pleasant experience.

Any equipment used in the storage or collecting of milk should be stainless steel. It is easier to sanitize and can be heated to clean thoroughly. Glass jars are often used as storage in smaller herds or for families using the fresh milk at home.

In a dairy sheep farm business, there are additional products that can be sold, breeding stock, wool from the annual sheep shearing, farm club animals, and meat. With further processing, products such as yarn and spinning fiber, felted fabrics and rugs, or sheepskin rugs could bring in extra income.

In a nutshell, sheep or dairy goat farming business plans are an investment that could have much success. As our cultures become more diverse, the market for the goat or sheep milk products will increase.

Do you raise dairy sheep breeds? Let us know in the comments below.

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