Sheep milking - year three begins

norseofcourse

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I have two ewes I'm trying to milk. I built a milk stand and started training sessions this past Saturday evening (twice a day on weekends, evening only on weekdays due to time). With pellets/corn I got them onto the milkstand (finally), and now they are jumping onto it well. However, when I handle their udders, they kick. And kick. And kick. I got Gracie as a yearling last year, and she's somewhat handlable. The younger ewe, Brosa, is one I've handled from birth, and I was able to touch her all over, including her udder (and I still can, unless I'm trying to milk her). I expected some kicking from Gracie, but not from Brosa. I am currently just putting my fingers around a teat and waiting for them to stop kicking, which tonight (Thursday), they each did - briefly. As soon as I moved, the kicking started right back up. :barnie

I have the milk stand in a small pen, in a corner so the front and one side are against walls. Right now I'm just putting the feed pan on the stand, but I'll be making a crossbar soon so I can hang a feed pan on the front. They're not halterbroke, and I don't have a headlock - I didn't want to get them scared or feel trapped - or worse yet, get out of the headlock since I'm not sure how to build one, and sheep necks are different than goats. And I've read on this forum about hobbling their hind legs, but I don't want to do that when they're not tied to the stand, lest they try and jump off and get hurt because their legs are tied...

I am not separating the lambs before milking (it wouldn't work well here), but I know when they usually nurse, so I can time a milking session for when the sheep should have milk.

It sounds like I'm making a lot of excuses, and maybe I am but I wanted to lay out what I'm working with. I'm trying to figure out my best course of action.

Am I just too impatient? Do I just keep doing what I'm doing, and hope they finally get used to what I'm doing and stop kicking?

I may be able to put a siderail or section of fencing against the other side of the milk stand - will that keep them in there well enough to try the hobbles safely? I may even be able to put something along the back so they can't back out either, although that'll be tricky to do and still give me room to get enough access to milk them. Right now I'm milking them from the rear - that seems to give me the best access.

Has anyone ever tried something like the Udderly EZ milker that PBS has? It's a handheld vacuum system. I've been hesitant about something mechanical, because of all the stories I hear of them irritating the teats too much and causing bits of pink in the milk. It's also nearly 200 dollars, and there's no guarantee I'd be able to use it with them kicking...

Any answers are appreciated, or any other tips or advice. I'm only milking for my personal use, so I'm not wanting a lot, but I'd like to experiment with some cheese and other stuff. If it matters, they are Icelandic. Thanks!
 

norseofcourse

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I thought I'd continue this thread instead of starting another one. Yesterday I started milking my sheep again. Last year was our learning and experimenting year, so this year we all know what we're doing, right? :lol:

Last year, when I finally tried separating the lambs at night and milking the ewes in the morning, it worked so well that I wanted to start this year off doing the same thing. I put together a pen in the run-in area for the lambs, and there's still plenty of room in the run-in for the ewes, so they can all be inside if the weather's bad.

On Friday night, after evening feeding, I closed the lambs in their new pen. I got lucky - they went right into the pen while their moms ate! I had put the old hay feeder in the pen, since I knew the lambs like to climb in it, and of course they had to go in and check it out. I set them up with water and hay. After some deliberation, I decided to pen Gracie's lambs, too. They're not quite a week old, but I knew the other ewes would be somewhat upset about their lambs being penned, and upset ewes tend to headbutt whatever's nearby, and I didn't want her little ones getting hurt.

The calling wasn't too bad, it was nearly dark and I hoped everyone would just rest most of the night. The night was alright - but oh my gosh, the noise in the morning! I was up at first light, and both lambs and ewes were hollering to each other and to me, to hurry up! I ended up only milking Rose, since Lukka's not fully trained yet, but Lukka did get on the stand and I brushed her and gave her some grain, and trimmed some wool from around her back end and udder. I got 12 ounces of milk from Rose, which, if you read this whole thread, is more than I ever got from anyone last year!!!!

This morning (Sunday) was day two. I started on a weekend, hoping we could get some sort of routine down before the workweek, when I'll be more pressed for time in the mornings. Once again, penning the lambs was easy, and the ewes didn't call quite as much, except for Lukka. She is a first-time mom and a bit more vocal.

I was up and out early again this morning, hoping the noise wouldn't be as bad. Yikes, it seemed worse! I cringed as I imagined the sheep waking up everyone in the nearby neighborhood :hide. The lambs weren't too bad, but the ewes were. I had taken some of the last of some really nice, soft grassy hay I have, and I gave some to Rose after I milked her. She immediately started eating it, and stopped calling. I think tomorrow I'll take more out and give it to the ewes to keep them busy while I milk, maybe that will stop most of the noise.

I don't remember that kind of noise happening last year, but by the time I tried penning the lambs and milking in the morning, they were several months older, and the ewes were probably glad to be away from them for awhile! lol

Anyway, this morning I milked Rose and got about 11 ounces. Then I got Lukka onto the stand, and this time I put the neckrope on her, and started cleaning off her udder to see how she would do. She did well! I was pretty 'hands off' with her last year, since I was trying not to get attached to any of the lambs, so she didn't have a lot of handling like Brosa did the year before. So I was very pleased at how well Lukka did :) She didn't do any of the foot-stomping or pooping on the stand that Brosa had done :rolleyes: She stood well enough that I even did a bit of milking. Her teats aren't as big as her mom's, which I expected since she's younger, but they're not too bad, and her orifices seemed a good size, and seemed to point down straighter than her mom's.

I didn't milk her very much, but I think she has real potential. She moved around a bit on the stand, so I stopped when she was standing nice and still, and rewarded her with some more grain.

Then I got Gracie in and on the stand. This was just practice for Gracie, too, since she only got milked a little bit at the beginning of last summer, due to having to be wormed. For being out of practice, she did pretty well. And even with twins, her udder capacity seems to be pretty good, enough that taking a bit in the morning should be fine. Her teats are smaller than Rose's, but her orifices seem a bit larger.

I combined Lukka and Gracie's milk, and measured it but didn't keep it, since some gunk got in it. It totaled 7 ounces, which isn't bad. I didn't milk either of them out anywhere close to fully, I'll work towards that as they both get more experience. More practice will do me some good as well! My aim isn't too bad - I almost always hit the bucket now - but I have a long way to go to get more consistent.

So, a decent start to milking for the year! Tomorrow will be more of a test: Can I keep the ewes quieter? Can I milk all three ewes, do chores, and still get to work on time? Will I someday remember to get pictures? Stay tuned and find out!
 
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norseofcourse

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I got some pictures yesterday morning, during milking. I've given descriptions, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and I thought some might be interested to see. A few pics were a bit blurry, it's not easy to take them with one hand and milk with the other. If you can't tell from the pics, I am milking from the rear.

First up is Gracie. This is her third freshening, and second year being milked (although I didn't milk her very long last year, due to her being wormed).

gracieteat.jpg


She's almost a 3-finger milker lol. Notice how I grasp some of the udder above the teat - saw that on a video someone posted here, and it does help. It's difficult to do when their udder is full, but after the first few pulls, I re-do my grip and it's easier. I typically get a much stronger stream - I was going real slow as I was trying to keep the camera still with the other hand.

Up next is Lukka, a first freshener who is behaving very well on the milking stand, despite very little handling (because at first I didn't think I was keeping her). Lukka is more of a two-finger milker, but she lets down her milk nicely. I am hoping she takes after her mom Rose, and you'll see why in the next set of pictures!

lukkateat1.jpg


lukkateat2.jpg


Last we have Rose, a third freshener and the second year she's been milked (I think I milked about two months last year, maybe a bit less). She has teats I think even a goat owner would like :p even though her orifices are a bit small.

roseteat1.jpg


roseteat2.jpg


The lambs are penned during the night, until I finish milking in the morning. They are used to the routine so they're pretty patient now, but Gracie's twins try to look as pitiful as possible. "Oh, please, please, can't you see we're about to faint from hunger?"

lambswait.jpg
 

trampledbygeese

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This is a great thread, thanks for sharing your experience.

One thought on the mucky milk bucket bottom - what my goat friend does is have two buckets, one for the actual milking and one to keep on a nearby, clean shelf in the barn. The milk from the milking bucket, goes into the shelf bucket and the shelf bucket (without muck on the bottom) is the one that goes into the kitchen. The mucky bucket gets cleaned and sanitized in the barn.
 

norseofcourse

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Overdue for an update!

Gracie peed only a few more times on the milkstand, then (with one exception) she hasn't done it since. I still don't know why, but glad she's stopped. Maybe she was overanxious - she insists on being first to be milked

I'm still milking 3 sheep - Gracie, Lukka and Rose - nearly every morning. I've been milking now for 10 weeks. Right now I'm averaging about two cups of milk total per day - mosty from Gracie and Rose, since Lukka is a first freshener. Sometimes production is a bit higher, sometimes a bit lower, and it's hard to tell if it's them, me, or something else.

I am really enjoying the milking, but I'm starting to really hate getting up early enough to get the milking and other chores done before heading to work. The bumper crop of mosquitoes we've got right now isn't helping either.

I've got at least two gallons of milk frozen for cheesemaking, and at least that much or more frozen for soapmaking. I also have enough frozen for one batch of ice cream, and I'm currently freezing more in 1.5 cup batches for fudge. It amazes me that squirt by squirt, my girls have given me so much milk! I don't use a lot of milk on a daily basis, so most of it has gotten frozen, and I'm running out of room - a problem I could not have imagined last year.

I had one gallon of milk frozen from last year. A few weeks ago I used half of that to make cheese, and it turned out well (I made lemon cheese, then ricotta with the whey). Today, I used the other half gallon and made the same cheeses. With this year's milk, I've also made several batches of fudge, some ice cream, and a few other recipes that called for milk.

Letting the cream rise to separate it hasn't been working too well for me. I don't know how long it would take to let it set for most/all the cream to rise, and I'm not comfortable with letting the milk set in the fridge all that long. I may research cream separators - I've heard of tabletop models so maybe they can be used with smaller quantities, like a quart or half gallon.

My original plan had me milking for another ten weeks, but I don't know if I'll go that long. It was just based on how long I figured I'd have enough daylight in the morning. I'm not ready to stop quite yet, but maybe start skipping more weekdays. No matter how much longer I go this year, I think it's been quite a success and a really great learning experience again!
 

norseofcourse

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Yesterday morning I milked the sheep for the last time this year. I missed milking this morning, but I didn't miss getting up so early! This year was to be my 'trial' and experimenting year, and I'd have to say it was a success overall.

By trial and error, and reading and asking folks, we went from beginners to at least somewhat experienced (but still novice) milker and milkees. I learned that once sheep know a routine, they remember and expect it - especially if food is involved!

I went from being excited about getting a whole two tablespoons :) to getting enough milk that I wasn't quite as concerned about the amount that got absorbed into the milk filter :D =D. Separating the lambs and moms overnight, and then milking in the morning, turned out to work really well, once I figured out a way to do it here.

I am really looking forward to milking next year (well, all but the getting-up-early part!). The milking stand/neckrope arrangement works well, but I need to get a milking stool - my knees were telling me I'm not as young as I used to be.

There's an area inside the run-in area I can section off into a 8' by 10' pen for the lambs next year, with goat panels from TSC. Then I'll just need to make a small hay/grain feeder for them. By mid to late April, there's enough daylight at 6:30 am to start milking, so I'm hoping to time lambing for the lambs to be about a month old at that point. Daylight that early will last about 4 months, if I end up milking that long!

For the two months I milked this year, I got a little over two gallons. There were some days I didn't milk, some I got an ounce or two, often I got 4 or 5 ounces, and when I started separating the lambs I probably averaged 8 to 10 ounces a day. Crossing fingers, if all goes well I'll be getting more milk next year, and I hope to experiment again with cheese, and even have enough milk to try some things like yogurt and butter. And cajeta :drool

Thanks for the advice and encouragement everyone!
 
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norseofcourse

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@Baymule and @frustratedearthmother - thanks!

Sunday, I inventoried all the milk I had frozen, and I was amazed to find I had just over six gallons!! That's in addition to the milk I've used for fudge, ice cream, puddings, soap, and a few other things. No wonder I'm running out of room.
 
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norseofcourse

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Thought I'd revive this thread as I begin milking again. All 4 of my ewes are in milk this year!

I did a 'test run' or two over the last couple of weeks, mainly just getting each of the ewes to get onto the milkstand to get us back into the routine. I also took the opportunity to start trimming udders - these ewes grow really wooly udders :)
I splurged on a decent pair of cordless clippers - probably not heavy duty enough to shear a sheep, but fine for udders and lighter clip jobs like pony bridle paths. I got a good start on clipping, but I still need to get better at the area of their inside hind legs, and a few other spots. I'll take the clippers out soon and have another go at it - we've had so much rain lately and I'd rather not do it when they are wet or damp.

Last Saturday was to be my first 'real' milking day, so I penned the lambs separately on Friday night. They had food and water, but they still called for awhile until they settled down. But every time they heard me at the house (like taking the dogs out in the middle of the night), they'd start back up again! The moms joined in, but they settled down fairly well, I'm sure they remember the routine.

Saturday morning I'm up and out there by 6:30 am. I gave everyone fresh hay, which got the ewes quiet, but the lambs were still calling some - not horribly, though. They will learn.

Gracie was first. She was quite full, and her teats were pretty easy to milk. But before I milked her out fully, my hands were getting tired, and I still had three sheep to go... I decided to stop so I didn't overdo it. Gracie had behaved well, and I know my hands will get used to milking again soon. I got approx. 11 ounces from Gracie.

Lukka was second. This is Lukka's second freshening, and her udder was tiny last year - well, it's not tiny now! She had a nice big udder, but her teats were still as small as last year's. I was hoping they'd start getting more like her mom's (Rose). Maybe her twins this year will help. Anyway, I didn't milk her for very long - those little teats were just too difficult. I know she still had a lot more milk. I got approx. 4 ounces from Lukka.

Brosa was third. Brosa's udder was *huge*!!! It was so full and beautiful. Unfortunately, she also had these little, tiny teats.... And her udder was so full that I couldn't grasp any of the udder above her teats, to help milk her more easily. She also misbehaved on the stand - kicking, moving, not cooperating. Not nearly as bad as the first year I milked her, though - and she had last year off so she's not used to the routine as well as the others. She did finally settle, although I mostly milked her with one hand as I held the container with the other, so she couldn't kick it over or step in it. I don't think I came anywhere close to milking her out, but I did better than I expected - I got about 8 ounces from Brosa.

Finally, last was Rose. It took a bit of time to get her into the milking area, but she's food motivated so she finally hopped up. She had a nice full udder too - and lovely, lovely teats! Milking her was a pleasure and a joy after Lukka and Brosa, even though my hands were getting pretty tired by now. She was a little fidgety on the stand, but not too bad. I didn't milk her out fully either, but I ended on a good note when she was standing well. I got about 13 ounces from Rose.

Saturday night I didn't pen the lambs, so Sunday morning I thought I'd see how much I would get without separating them. It wasn't hard to get each ewe on the stand, and the milking was a little easier for Lukka and Brosa since they weren't so full - but the results were very different. I got a whopping 4 ounces of milk from all 4 ewes combined.

So - where to go from here? I've got some ideas, but it'll have to be another post, when I'm a bit more awake.
 
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