by Heidi Clarke NASSA Flock # 431
have been milked and their milk has been made into cheese for thousands of
years, mostly in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean.
More than half the dairy
products consumed worldwide come from sheep or goats. Some of the world's more
famous cheeses include Roquefort, Romano, Ricotta and Feta. In 2004 more than
72 million pounds of sheep cheese were imported into North America. In 1989,
1.2 billion sheep were milked worldwide (40 million in Turkey alone) compared
with only about 226 million cows. Some of the world's longest living people are
shepherds found in European countries where their diet consists mostly of sheep
Sheep milk is very white in
color and rich in taste. It has no unpleasant 'sheepy' taste or odor. It is
higher in milk fat (6-8%) and protein (5-7%) than cow's milk and has a 'thick'
texture similar to coffee cream. These percentages vary depending on feed and
stage of lactation. Ewe's milk exceeds cow's milk in mono- and poly-unsaturated
and in essential fatty acids which are so valued in today's health conscious
society. Sheep milk is high in essential vitamins and minerals and is very easy
to digest (45 minutes as compared to 4 hours for cow's milk). Two cups of
sheep's milk supply the recommended daily intake of calcium (125%), phosphorus
(65%), zinc (50%), vitamin E (40%), vitamin C (50%), vitamin B12 (140%).
Sheep's milk is a sweet, rich, tasty beverage.
Sheep milk can be frozen for
later use with no loss of quality when used within 12 months. It continues to
be tasty even when frozen. Besides being used as a beverage, it makes excellent
ice cream and yogurt. Most commercial sheep cheese is made from frozen milk.
Sheep milk used in baking and cooking requires a downward adjustment of any
sugars among ingredients.
Research has shown that
milking a ewe once a day and having her raise her own lambs is more economical
than either removing the lambs to raise them on milk replacer, or letting her
raise them for 30 days and then weaning them.
If you want to milk your ewes,
there are a few points to consider to ensure a more successful milking
experience. Choose ewes not only based on the quantity of milk but also on
their temperament. A more placid ewe will be less stressed by the milking
procedure than a high strung one. Be patient and calm yourself, to encourage
good milk letdown in your ewe. Adopt an unvarying milking routine and milking
time to keep milk production at its optimum. Train ewes to be tethered by
halter or head gate several weeks before you wish to start milking. Develop a
routine (that you will follow when you actually start to milk). That lets the
sheep know you are going to touch the udder (eg. touching the upper rear leg
before touching the udder).
Continue this training until
you are certain that the ewes are going to be comfortable with it when the time
comes to start milking. Unlike goats and cows, sheep are not milked from the
side but from behind, between the hind legs.
Observe good personal
hygiene. Ensure that your hands, fingernails and clothing are clean. It is a
good idea to let the lambs 'clean' up the last of the milk in the udder so that
the ewe is completely emptied after milking. Feeding after milking encourages
the ewe to keep standing, allowing the teat sphincter to close which prevents
bacteria from entering.
Udders must be clean and dry.
If udders are dirty and must be washed, make sure they are well dried before
milking. It is even advisable to sanitize the udders with a towel dampened in
sanitizer to prevent introduction of bacteria into the milk.
80% of a ewe's milk is held in
the milk secreting tissues of the udder.
Only 20% is held in the milk
cistern. Proper udder massage stimulates the pituitary gland to release
oxytocin which initiates milk letdown. Gentle but firm massaging of the udder
is very important in maximizing milk letdown. Follow the routine that you
developed during training that lets them know you are going to touch the udder.
Never surprise your ewes.
Each ewe will have her
individual timing related to the letdown.
For best taste, milk should
have minimal contact with the air. Chill quickly and keep in fridge or
freezer. There are other factors that affect the flavour of milk, such as what
is eaten and even what smells are in the air. Make sure your ewes are housed in
well ventilated quarters and monitor what they eat. Practice sound sanitation
management. Keep milking area clean and dry. Udders and teats should be clean
(free of wool, dirt, straw, etc.). Milk into a container fitted with a
strainer/filter to prevent dust and debris from falling into the milk. Wash all
milking items with detergent and warm (not hot) water. Rinse well with cool