Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Milking Icelandic Sheep

When selecting the Icelandic sheep breed, milking them was one of those items on list but somewhat on the bottom of the list.  During my two years of research on this breed, I always knew they were great milkers, very easily raising twins, triplets and even quads with out nary a problem with milk supply.  Further reading showed that many of the famous European cheeses such as Roquefort, Feta, Pecorino Romano were all made and still are using sheep milk.  Now, while goat and cow milk is the most well known and popular, there are many reasons most folks don't know why sheep milk has an advantage.

  • Nutritious
    Sheep milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium than cow's milk.
    Research shows that sheep milk contains more CLA, which is a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. The fat globules in sheep milk are smaller than the fat globules in cow's milk, making sheep milk more easily digested.

  • Sheep milk
    Sheep milk can be frozen and stored until you have enough to use it to cook or make cheese with and it does not affect the nutritional properties of the milk unlike other milk.

  • After lambing this year I realized that one of my ewes had a huge udder.  I mean it even looked uncomfortable.  I checked her to make sure she was letting down and the lamb was able to nurse.  I had read about mastitis in sheep and wanted to make certain she was alright.  Turns out she is just a very milky gal!  Then it occured to me...why not milk her...heck why not milk them all??

    I sent away for the Udderly EZ hand milker and set out on Saturday morning to milk my very first sheep.  I had separeated the lambs from the ewes the night befor and about 12 hours had passed.  The lambing jugs lended themsleves for the perfect place to begin working.  Doug cooed Eliza (the milky young lady) while I with my sterilized milker in hand sat on my cute little milking stool! Ha haha did you get the perfect image in your head....good now throw it out!  First went the stool, I couldn't even see the udder let alone reach under there to latch this thing on.  Now, of course I didn't want to hurt the ewe, being a gal myself...I was cautious when handling an ewe that was full of milk since the night before. 
    No matter how I tried to latch this thing on it wasn't happening, she was getting cranky (rightfully so) and I wanted milk!! I'm sure it was user error.  I tossed the contraption and dove right into hand milking.  Whoa! Now this is something I never imagined having on my radar! A city girl milking a sheep...heck I now knew I could do anyting!

    Her milk let down nice and easy and I collected about 9 oz.  Not bad for a complete novice.  That morning we milked all three ewes.  With the second I finally figured out how to use the Udderly EZ milker and it was deffinately easier on the hands.  But this whole thing of being sprawled on the grownd covered in sheep droppings was just not the way to go.  Doug and I looked up some plans online later that morning and set off to build us a simple milking stand.  Anything that is easier on the back will be worth it.

    This first batch of milk (a total of 30oz) is sitting frozen in my freezer waiting for the summer soap making project.  This weekend we will give our new millking stand a try and if all goes well we will continue to milk the ladies once a day until July when the lambs are weaned. 

    I think I see yogurt and skyr and maybe even some fancy cheese in my farm kitchen's future!!
    Wish us luck.  I will post some photos and detail the process in an upcoming post for those who want to give milking sheep a try.  Believe me, it is a very rewarding and satisfying feeling!  You feel like its just one more thing that helps you get to know your sheep even better.

    Enjoy this wet Spring weather! At least Spring has finally arrived!



    1. Sandy, I have been wondering how you were making out with milking - good for you! I will look forward to seeing your milk stand. Can't wait till we get out of this rainy weather!
      Thanks as always for your news, I really enjoy reading! Elaine

    2. Sandy, what a great post! I know EXACTLT how you feel! I really wasn't sure about doing the whole milk thing, and thought, "Well, after I get through this first year and get used to the sheep, I MIGHT give it a try next year or the next...we'll see." But, I ended up needing to milk a couple of them to bottle feed their babies, and it wasn't that bad! I was pretty impressed with myself! And it did give me the feeling of, "Now I know I can do ANYTHING!"
      I can't wait to see your milking stand. We have been talking about building one. It would be useful for so many things. And much easier on my back!

    3. It really is such a cool thing!!! Pictures will be up soon and if it really works out I'll try to post the plans we used. So happy things are going great for everyone!

    4. YES! I used to milk my Icelandic sheep also, using the Udderly EZ milker. Also my pygmy and Nigerian dwarf goats. It's a great product and so easy to use. I'm glad you will build a stand - I used my shearing stand for milking purposes but a proper milking stand would be great. The mozzarella I made with Icelandic milk was tremendous! I hope your cheese making efforts work out well! Thanks for visiting my blog and sending your good thoughts our way - we hope that things will turn around with time.