Last year when I started milking I had no one to show me how. I had to figure it out on my own. I started off wrestling sheep who did not like being touched and was generally skittish due to the trauma of seeing her whole flock killed by coyotes and being the lone survivor. For 45 minutes Ash and I would tie her to the band wall and struggle as I held her like a Roman wrestler and tried to milk. She would kick and frequently stick her foot in the bucket. So I switched to milking one handed into a jar. You can move quickly with a jar and keep your milk pretty clean if you tilt it towards the udder rather than up to the belly like a bucket.
Thus, I developed my method for milking once handed into a jar. Anything that gets mud/dirt/poop in it can be discarded without ruining a whole bucket of milk. If a foot does make it into the jar that milk goes to the pigs (no waste) and I can get a new, clean sanitized jar to finish with.
After I got a stanchion our milking relationship improved greatly. She now happily munches away as I milk her only kicking when shes out of food. I feed nice organic alfalfa hay to her because a) its organic b) alfalfa pellets get inhaled in a matter of seconds c) the hay takes longer for them to eat and the stems act as roughage to keep their rumens healthy. Still, sometimes she’ll knock her straw out of the feeder and demand more! now!
This is Ash in the morning. I separate the lambs at night so her udder fills up. At this point she wants to be milked. I take a can of grain and shake it next to the stanchion and she hops up. A little grain treat and we can get started.
Her bag is pretty clean but I still wash her udders off with warm soapy water. Before that I take a comb and brush all the straw and dirt off her belly. This cuts down on chances of contamination. At this point shes run out of grain and starts getting handfuls of alfalfa. I sanitize my hands with a gel sanitizer before I start and get to milking into my jar one handed.
I tried for a more artistic shot with the sheep in the background, but i guess that didn’t happen! One clean jar of milk with alfalfa leaves everywhere! See why I like to use a jar and not an open bucket? I then pour the milk into a clean bucket with a lid and get on milkin’ on.
Ash is almost empty at this point and I could keep milking her..and possibly should do so. But I like to save a little for her lamb. Shes done and I give her back to her lamb. Muttonchop has learned when I’m done with “mom” I let him in the milking pen so he jumps up and runs to the gate whenever he thinks/hopes I’m done. The other two lambs still have to wait their turn but they TRY to get in.
Dang. looks like theres milk in there again already!
Next its Pollys turn. She knows when Ash gets off the stand its her turn (sheep are VERY trainable, if you haven’t noticed yet.)
Shes nice and full. There is a reason I call her “Polly Parton.” A quick brush, a wash, sanitize my hands and we are off!
Theres still a bit of milk in there, but its getting to be a pain to get so at this point I give her back to her lambs.
Who happily finish milking her for me. Of course they don’t stop when she thinks shes done…
By the evening Polly moves herself back into her nighttime pen away from her lambs, happy to have a little “personal space.” At this point the girls very willingly work with me. We no longer fight. Their udders and in good health (last year Ash bruised her udders and was very sore from the get-go). Now I have to train this years first timers to know this is normal, okay, and rewarding. Milking time is the only time they get grain or alfalfa. Otherwise its pasture or hay.
If case you are wondering: with once a day milking I’m getting about a quart and a half off each ewe. Together a little over half a gallon a day. If you wonder why prices for sheep milk tends to be high thats why. Some of the top milkers make 1 gallon a day. Of course, the milk fat content is higher than it is for cows (3.5%-5%) or goats (5%-7%) at a whopping 7%-9% milkfat. I was actually getting something like 15% for a while. One quart of milk was making a whole pound of cheese! Normally it takes 2 gallons of cows milk to produce a pound of cheese. So while the volume is less it is more nutritionally dense.
If you are ever interested in trying some sheep milk I have plenty on hand. Stop by and meet the girls.