Sheep milking - year three begins

mikiz

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@norseofcourse when you freeze your milk, do you do it in one little batch from each day or do you keep it say a couple of days to build up and then freeze? I couldn't imagine having 30 separate little jars in the freezer after a month of milking!
 

norseofcourse

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@norseofcourse when you freeze your milk, do you do it in one little batch from each day or do you keep it say a couple of days to build up and then freeze? I couldn't imagine having 30 separate little jars in the freezer after a month of milking!
Good question! I usually bagged it up to freeze every few days. I averaged 2 cups a day - sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less - so in 2 or 3 days I'd have a quart + (unless I used some). I'm a bit squirrely about milk being more than a few days old, so if I didn't get to it often enough, I'd bag the older stuff for soap, and the fresher stuff for cheese and fudge.

I use quart size bags for quarts, and sandwich size bags for up to 2 cups (often I'd bag 1.5 cups, that's the amount for my fudge recipe :) ). I write the amount and intended use on the outside of the bag with a marker, and for cheese I'd write the date (tip - write on bag before filling with cold milk). I freeze the bags flat on a plate, so they stack better for storage.

Once I settle on a good recipe or two for soap, I'll know what portion size to use for freezing milk for soap. Quart portions work well for cheese, because recipes are often for half or whole gallons.
 

mikiz

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That's awesome, I'm actually really excited to milk sheep, even if it is only a little bit at a time, it's kind of perfect since I don't drink all that much and now I know what to do if I end up with too much :D
 

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.
 

norseofcourse

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I think you need a milk machine of some kind. Little teats are impossible to milk but when I milk with a machine it doesn't matter; a life saver.
That's one of the things I've considered. I've read a lot of posts about the various machines, but none has really grabbed my interest. And it's a big investment for just a few sheep. I don't need a lot of milk, this has been mainly for the learning experience, for the sheep to earn a bit more towards their keep (sheep-milk soap), and for the chance to have some fun with making various things like cheese, yogurt, skyr, and other stuff from my own animals.

And I like hand milking :) I can't explain exactly why, it's a lot of things rolled up together. If it got to the point where I didn't like it, I think I'd rather stop altogether, than switch to a machine.

Some other options I've thought of are:

Milk just Gracie and Rose. They are my two easiest to milk as far as teat size, and they both give a good amount. Especially Rose this year, since she only has a single.

Separate the lambs for a shorter time period. Last Saturday they were separated for 11 hours. I'm trying this option this weekend - I fed late tonight, just after dark, so if I get out there by about 6 or 6:30 am, it'll only be a 9 hour separation. Will that make much difference? I'll find out!

Another option would be to milk Gracie and Rose now, and (if I want), milk Brosa and Lukka later in the summer, when their milk production starts dropping. I have last year's data, which might give me some idea of when production may start decreasing.

I don't know how much teat size can change with each freshening. Lukka and Brosa are both technically second fresheners, Rose and Gracie 4th-timers. I didn't try any milking when Rose and Gracie were first fresheners, so I don't have any idea what their teats were like then. Rose's teats were already a nice size as a second freshener. I was really hoping she'd pass that to her daughter. Maybe with time...
 

Mini Horses

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You may want to look at the breast pumps for women. I bought on to use on a goat with tiny teats and it works well. You have to squeeze a handle but the cup fits onto those tiny teats. For goats, the containers were too small usually...8oz...and then switch the bottle. But, for your sheep it may be perfect.

The one I have has a little band for tension on the handle to suction part -- similar to a rubber band idea -- and it stretches with as much use as was needed for the goat (couple weeks, 2X daily use) I couldn't find any replacements at the local stores, didn't look online. At that point I had another milker I had ordered. I do like the squeeze effect of that little hand held, more like hand milking. BUT if any joint issues, it is still a consideration as it will work your hands!

In past years I have used these on my mini mares to collect colostrum to freeze. They really have some short teats! But the pump is something like a flat funnel at the top, so fits onto a full udder nicely. they gave a few ounces, like the sheep. My goats give 1/2-3/4 gal at a milking, each.

Maybe an EZ Milker?
 

Mini Horses

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Just wanted to ad, I freeze milk for cheese & soap, also. But, I do drink a lot when they are milking. Anyhow, had such a supply in freezer that I cleaned it out by using it to feed to pigs & chickens. My chickens love the soft cheeses! I make mine similar to your lemon cheese but, use vinegar. It makes a nice cheese, especially with added herbs. Garlic & basil, oregano & sun dried tomatoes, etc. Like you said, temp, length of time it sets after adding the acid (lemon/vinegar) and how long it drains, all affect the texture -- softer, etc. Some I work as spread, others, to slice. I'd like to do a cheddar -- aged & all that but, haven't yet.

When I milk 2 or 3 goats I easily get over 2 gal a day!!

I drink it, feed cats, dogs, pigs, chickens....make cheese for all, have made butter. Haven't bought soap in over 2 yrs and do make enough to go to bazaars & sell it, plus in two beauty shop locations.
 

mysunwolf

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Got to speak up for the sheep... dairy sheep can give 1/2 a gallon or more at each milking! But you have to practice proper weaning, rations, and general care like you would for a dairy goat. The other awesome thing about dairy sheep is that they have big loose bags, large orifices, and long teats for very easy hand milking :) @norseofcourse I know that you know these things. Have you ever considered crossing some of the dairy breeds in with your girls for milkier offspring?

While I don't agree with the human breast pump (have heard sheep dairy people say it's just a baaaddd idea), I do think something like an EZ Milker or even a really fancy one would increase your production. My biggest problem milking non-dairy ewes is that you just can't get the milk out of the tiny teats and/or orifices. Especially not before they finish their treat on the stand and get grumpy!

I also prefer hand milking, it's just a special experience for me.
 
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