After giving serious consideration to factoring one or more milk goats into our homestead operation, and chatting with a friend about the thought, my inclination is now leaning in a different direction, one so often overlooked: dairy sheep.
The idea might seem strange to Americans, although sheep milk is produced abundantly around the world and the U.S. imports more than 70 million pounds of sheep milk cheese annually.
Among cheeses, sheep’s milk varieties are my favorite, and since the fat content is higher, it goes further for cheese-making. It shares many health benefits, as well as digestibility, with goat’s milk, both being superior to cow’s milk. It contains more protein than either. The flavor is rich but mild and the products wonderfully creamy. And it’s said to be uniquely suited to freezing.
Before I raised my goats as a kid (no pun intended), I reared two lambs. My first was a bummer (the runt triplet) given to me at 8 hours old when I was eight or nine years old. I bottle-fed her and she followed me everywhere. Her name was Dandelion, and I called her Baby. When my parents sold our farm, Dandelion “went to live out her days as someone’s beloved pet” while I was at school one day.
A few years later I got Reba, who was a month-old bummer lamb. She lived in our kitchen for a few weeks, and grew into an enormous ewe that I could actually ride. My younger brother pestered and harassed her into hating him, and she’d rear up and chase him out of the barnyard threatening a swift headbutt to the hind-end. But with me she was a sweet-mannered friend until her untimely demise.
So, I’ve always had as much fondness for sheep as any of the livestock, although they lack the animated personality and intelligence of goats and pigs. But as I’ve discussed, the only practical avenue we could see for our two sheep when we move is to re-home them, an option that I generally prefer not to resort to. I’m not ready, realistically, to dedicate ample time to cleaning and spinning wool in addition to regular shearing, as much as I’d like to. (Wool uses without spinning, anyone?) We’ve considered breeding and raising the lambs for slaughter, and that option is not out of the question.
We’d still have to breed one or both of our sheep and raise a ewe lamb to be tame enough for handling, since the two we have are temperamental and standoffish.
If we decide to dive into the dairy animal plan, I’m thinking that a sheep would be as good an option as any. I’m looking forward to sheep’s milk ice cream and fresh feta. If anyone can offer experience in this arena, I would be most stunned and pleased to hear!