Just about a week after we started milking her, Stella, our purebred Lincoln Longwool, has really hit her stride with the milking process. It seems this girl was made to be a milk sheep – despite the fact that her breed says otherwise. Lincoln Longwools are a wool sheep, known for their dense and strong fleeces. Their wool is excellent on its own for outer garments and rugs, or blended with other wools for weaving.
When we originally looked into milking sheep, we found out that dairy ewes are very expensive and not within our reach for the next several years at least. But then we found out that, while they don’t make as much milk, and can often be harder to milk, non-dairy breeds can be milked too. So we started considering the ewes we already owned for potential milk ewes. When we discussed milking our wool ewes, we weren’t even considering Stella at first. She has extra, non-functional teats. This happens a lot on livestock, and generally doesn’t cause a problem, but it isn’t ideal for the udder of an animal used for milking because they can get in the way. Little did we know when we were first planning and examining udders that Stella would end up having such a prolific udder that is actually quite well suited to hand milking.
When husband gets to the barn for milking he puts her halter on and gives her feed, and before he even gets her udder washed, she is already letting down her milk. He easily milks out over a pint within about 5 minutes, doing one side at a time while holding the jar…and it’s done. So with a little more than ten minutes of effort we are getting over a quart of sheep’s milk a day by hand! From what I have read, the serious dairy breed ewes can produce twice that amount, but a quart a day from a wool-breed ewe is an excellent amount and we are very happy with it.
We are very surprised with the ease of milking Stella. Based on our research, we expected it to be harder to get her to let down and relax, and we expected more fussing and fighting from her. In many ways she is actually easier to milk that our last cow was – as far as temperament goes. We had many a kick from that cow, and plenty of dancing around and fussing pretty regularly. Stella has not kicked, jumped, or been aggressive at all. In the beginning she danced a little bit as she was getting used to it, but now, with only a week’s experience with milking, she is standing totally still like a champ.
Our inexperience leads us to wonder if Stella is just an exception to the rule, or if milking non-dairy breeds can actually be quite a successful option for a backyard farmer. As hard as it was to lose little Goober, we are glad that some good has come from it. We are very excited about this new adventure on our little backyard farm – milking sheep!