Milking Sheep

I love Manchego cheese!  When I first decided to raise sheep I wanted a breed that could produce enough milk so I could make wheels and wheels of Manchego cheese.  My research into the cheese led me to information on Spanish sheep breeds that cannot be imported into the US.  But it also led me to the Navajo-Churro breed of sheep whose ancestors came from Spain.  The Navajo-Churro met two other very important requirements for me – that the breed be a heritage breed and that it be suitable to the climate of our farm.  Our flock is now well over 100 Navajo-Churros and we enjoy the lamb meat and their wool every year.  But farm and other work requirements have prevented me from taking up milking….until now!

In early December we had a ewe that lost her lamb quite unexpectedly.  It appeared healthy and very large and robust but died within 24 hours of birth.  The ewe has a large udder so I decided to try milking her to see how I liked being tied to a twice a day milk schedule.  She was not too thrilled with the idea at first but we settled on a “trade grain for milk” barter system and she now allows me to milk her for as long as her small cup of grain holds out.  (After that she does her best impression of a rodeo bucking sheep.)  To my suprise she is giving me almost a quart of fresh milk a day.

We have been making all types of cheese and yogurt and I am quite hooked on the whole process.  Sheeps milk is incredibly rich and creamy.  I find it a bit sweeter than cows milk and with no gamey taste.  It makes abundant cheese and the yogurt is thick and tangy like a Greek yogurt. 

I am in the process of trying to convince other ewes that have babies to share a little bit of milk everyday.  They would only get milked once a day so their baby could stay with them.  The ewes I have been recruiting have all had twins in the past – so can support more than one baby – but only have one lamb this time.  They are, however, very reluctant to give up a drop of milk.  It’s suprising they can hold back as completely as they can.  I have even tried holding their baby next to me so they can see and smell it but they are not fooled.  Sheep may not be the sharpest tools in the shed but they can spot a ruse.

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