Milking your Sheep
There are two ways to milk sheep. One can milk by hand or machine. Below I will describe both methods of milking sheep. These methods are best for small scale milking of sheep. Large-scale milking of dairy sheep requires specialized commercial equipment and will not be explained here.
Hand Milking Sheep
Hand milking a sheep is slightly different from hand milking a goat and much different from hand-milking a cow. It is actually somewhat similar to milking a dwarf goat only because sheep teats are very small but the milking mechanism still differs. If you know how to hand milk a goat or even better a dwarf goat, you are pretty much set but there are a few specifics when milking a sheep.
Sheep have very greasy udders. no matter how much you clean them, the grease will build up. You should always wipe down their udder before milking them. I typically uses some gentle baby wipes. The udder may remain greasy but at least it is clean. When actually milking a sheep, it is important to punch up into the udder to ‘catch’ that milk before you constrict your fingers around the base of the teat. In a sheep, the teat holds very little milk so, if you are not punching up into the udder, in a fairly assertive manner, you will be there all day milking. If you are determined to hand milk, here is a list of simple steps to follow:
1. Once the sheep is on the stand and has access to grain wash her udder.
2. Next milk each teat a few times into a small cup. This will do two things :it will remove the plug that has formed in the teat orifice since the last milking and it will allow you to see if anything if wrong with the milk. If the milking appears to be lumpy, overly yellow or has traces of blood in it. Your sheep may have mastitis so steps must be taken in order to treat her before you continue milking her for your consumption.
3. Once you have checked the initial milk coming from the teats and verified that is okay, you can then begin milking to collect for the day. There are many different ways of doing this and a lot of equipment out there. you can milk straight into a pail or any other container that will both allow you to milk into it easily but also fit comfortable under your sheep. There are also funnels and milk filters you may use to filter the milk as you are milking. While milking be aware of your sheep’s hind legs, sometimes they will unexpectedly kick the container you are using or put their feet right in it and there goes the milk for the day. So it is good to be aware of how your sheep is feeling while you milk her and if she is getting restless. Which may happen until you get the hang of milking a sheep by hand.
4. Now that the milk is collected. you may want to give the teats a quick wipe. Some people also use teat dip in order to disinfect the teats since the orifices are wide open after milking and bacteria could possible get it. I have never used teat dip because I have never seen a lamb use teat dip after drinking from mom and have yet to have an infected udder but some people do like to take that precaution.
5. The milk should now be chilled in order to decrease the chances that bacteria will grow in it. This is especially important if you are collected it as raw milk. When collecting raw sheep milk, or any kind of raw milk for that matter, you wanted everything to be as clean as possible because you won’t have pastuerization as your back-up if things do get contaminated. It is also good to keep everything clean even if you do plan to pasteurize. Small amounts of milk can sometime just be placed in the refrigerator to be chilled; however, larger amounts like a few gallons, may require some active chilling. Some people will put he milk in the freezer and stir frequently over the course of 20 minutes or place the container with milk in an ice bath and stir frequently to thoroughly chill the milk. As stated, this is really only necessary if you are collecting large quantities of milk that could stay warm for hours in the refrigerator.
6. Any equipment used for hand milking, should be immediately washed and sterilized so that bacteria can not grow on your equipment. This will ruin all subsequent milkings if you use contaminated equipment. If you find that your milk goes bad very quickly, then it could be due to bacterial contamination of your milking equipment. Milking equipment can be sterilized by a few different methods, the simplest is by spraying everything with a dilute bleach solution after thoroughly washing the equipment. The ‘bleach’ does not need to be rinsed off after the equipment has dried. if using a dilute solution, 10% or less, the bleach will break down into it’s components which is table salt, oxygen and water(which will evaporate) so bleach is food safe. Some companies also sell other food safe sterilization solutions which can be used and one could also use steam. There are making options for keeping your equipment clean but keeping it clean is not an option.
Hand milking sheep can be very tedious. If you have more than a couple sheep and you are milking more than once a day it can take a toll on your hands so it might be best to move onto a machine milker. Although they can be expensive, they can also save a great deal of time.
Here is a good video for how to hand milk a dairy sheep. The teats of the dairy sheep are much longer and so milking is a little easier than milking a meat sheep.
Machine Milking Sheep
As stated above, milking sheep by hand can be a challenge. A small milking machine can make the milking process a little bit easier. Milking machines do have their own issues, but if you are looking to save time and you hands, they are the only way to go.
Any small milking machine will do. A homemade or diy milking machine will work just as well in this case as a professionally made one. It is up to the milker to decided how much they want to spend on one. The main difference to consider when either building or purchasing a milking machine for sheep rather than a cow or goat is the size of the teat cups/ shells and their inflations. Full-sized goat and Cows require a larger sized shell and inflations than sheep do. The ones for cows and goats are usually the ones that come standard with these systems. Since sheep have small teats, one must make sure they get a machine with smaller shells/inflations, otherwise the machine will not work properly. When ordering or requesting these shells for a milking machine, you may sometimes see shells for mini-goats. These are the same shells as those required for sheep.
it may take some time to acclimate a sheep to the noise and general process of the milking machine but if you stay with a routine, the sheep will eventually catch on and the process will become very easy.
If you haven’t come here from my other site and you’d be interested in building a budget milker to get your started with milking sheep then please visit my page on building a diy milking machine at this easy to remember link: www.diymilkingmachines.com