Sidebar: Milk Not Mutton

Dorset Horn

Dorset Horn

Janet Wallace

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For centuries, European dairies have produced sheep milk delicacies such as Roquefort, Romano Pecorino, Greek Feta, Ricotta and yogurt. Sheep milk has a rich, creamy flavor, much like Jersey milk. However, it has about twice as much fat and milk protein as cow’s milk, and is more digestible due to smaller fat globules.

Dairy breeds, such as East Friesian or British Milksheep, can provide 4-6 pounds of milk per day (compared to 60-80 pounds/day for a Holstein cow). Because of the relatively low yield, some dairies stockpile the milk in freezers until they have enough to make a large batch of cheese. Unlike cow’s milk, sheep milk does not separate after freezing.

Lactation is often five months long. Overall milk production per lactation can be more than 1,000 pounds for dairy breeds, 250-650 pounds for crosses between meat and dairy breeds, and 100 pounds for meat breeds. The most productive domestic breeds include Dorset, Rideau Arcott and Polypay.

Milking sheep can be challenging. Their teats are small and their temperaments are not always suitable for the milking stand. However, goat milking machines can be used on sheep, or they can be milked by hand. In both cases, they are milked from behind, rather than the side.