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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.


  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension
    sschoen@umd.edu - (301) 432-2767 x343
    www.sheepandgoat.com


Milking sheep in Poland
Hand milking in Poland

Sheep milk
Sheep milk

East Friesian ewes
East Friesian Ewes
Photo courtesy of Crane Creek

Machine milking
Machine milking in Wisconsin

Soft sheep cheese
Soft sheep cheese

 "Cave" for aging cheese
Cave for aging cheese


    Got milk?

  • History
    Sheep have been raised for milk for thousands of years and were milked before cows. The world's commercial dairy sheep industry is concentrated in Europe and the countries on or near the Mediterranean Sea. The dairy sheep industry is in its infancy in the United States. There are approximately 100 dairy sheep farms in the U.S. They are found mostly in New England and the Upper Midwest. There are several large commercial sheep dairies in New York and California.


    World Milk Production
     Species
    Million liters, 1000
    Percent of total
     Cow
    494.6
    84.6
     Buffalo
    69.1
    11.8
     Goat
    12.5
    2.1
     Sheep
    7.8
    1.3
     Other
    1.3
    0.2
     Total
    585.3
    100
    Source: FAO of United Nations, 2001


  • Highly nutritious
    Sheep milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow's milk. It contains a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which have recognized health benefits. For example, short-chain fatty acids have little effect on cholesterol levels in people. They make milk easier to digest.

    According to a German researcher, sheep milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than the milk from pigs, horses, goats, cattle, and humans. CLA 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 a sufficient quantity of milk is available to sell or make cheese. Freezing does not affect the cheese-making qualities of the milk.

    Sheep milk has a higher solids content than goat or cow milk. As a result, more cheese can be produced from a gallon of sheep milk than a gallon of goat or cow milk. Sheep milk yields 18 to 25 percent cheese, whereas goat and cow milk only yield 9 to 10 percent.

    While sheep usually produce less milk than goats and much less than cows, sheep milk sells for a significantly higher price per pound, almost four times the price of cow milk.


    Composition of different kinds of milk
    Species
    % solids
    % Fat
    % protein
    calcium (mg)
    calories (kcal)
    Human
    12.5
    4.38
    1.03
    32
    70
    Cow
    12.01
    3.34
    3.29
    119
    69
    Goat
    12.97
    4.14
    3.56
    134
    69
    Sheep
    19.30
    7.0
    5.98
    193
    108
    Source: The nutritional value of sheep milk by George F. W. Haenlein


  • Cheese
    Most of the sheep milk produced in the world is made into cheese. Some of the most famous cheeses are made from sheep milk: Feta (Greece, Italy, and France), Ricotta and Pecorino Romano (Italy) and Roquefort (France). The U.S. is a large importer of sheep milk cheeses. Sheep milk is also made into yogurt and ice cream.

  • Dairy sheep breeds
    While lactating ewes of any breed can be milked, as with other species of livestock, there are specialized dairy sheep breeds. Worldwide there are more than a dozen dairy sheep breeds, but only a few are available in the United States: East Friesian and Lacaune. Specialized dairy breeds produce 400 to 1,100 pounds of milk per lactation, whereas the milk production from conventional sheep breeds is only 100 to 200 pounds of milk per lactation.

    The East Friesian is the most common and productive breed of dairy sheep in the world. Their average production is 990 to 1,100 pounds per 220 to 240-day lactation. Two other highly productive breeds of dairy sheep are the fat-tailed Awassi and Assaf breeds from Israel. In France, the Lacaune is the breed of choice for making the country's famous Roquefort cheese.

    Worldwide, most sheep are milked seasonally by hand. This is because many dairy sheep are raised in remote areas where no cow could survive. Modern sheep dairies use sophisticated machinery for milking: milking parlors, pipelines, bulk tanks, etc. Ewes are milked once or twice per day.

  • Management of dairy sheep
    In the United States, dairy ewes are managed in different ways. On some farms, ewes are not milked until their lambs have been weaned at 30 to 60 days of age. Another system allows lambs to suckle their lambs for 8 to 12 hours per day, after which time they are separated for the night and the ewes are milked the following morning. After the lambs are weaned at 28 to 30 days, the ewes are milked twice per day.

    Maximum milk yield is obtained when the lambs are removed from their dams within 24 hours of birth and raised on artificial milk replacer, as is common in Europe (with the East Friesian breed) and in cow and goat dairies.

  • Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow . . . Spanish proverb.