In the eight years since Simon Stott milked the first dairy sheep on the family’s farm in Lancashire he has set-up the farmers’ co-op Milk Sheep UK – which has a 2008 target production figure of 0.5m litres – increased his own flock to 400 ewes and achieved individual ewe yields of up to 1000 litres.

Milk Sheep UK was established in 2003. It is a non-profit making organisation and was set up to facilitate the marketing of sheep milk. There are now five members – including the Stott family – and two more will join next January.

Although continuing to build on its success supplying two big cheese producers with up to 9000 litres of milk a week, Mr Stott recognises that being able to supply volume is the key to running viable sheep milking enterprises.

“The big dairies we are supplying are now confident they can rely on a consistent supply of sheep milk and can meet an

MILKING SHEEP
  • Consistent nutrition maximises yield
  • Home-designed parlour
  • Breeding stock in demand
  • Co-operate on marketing
expanding consumer demand for a growing range of sheep milk cheeses. It works both ways the dairies want the volume of milk and if we can supply it, the market continues to develop and so do our businesses,” says Mr Stott.

As well as supplying some smaller artisan cheese-makers, the two principal buyers are Singletons Dairy, Longridge, Preston and Shepherd Purse at Thirsk, North Yorkshire, who supply Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Booths. Waitrose is also buying cheese from these dairies and has described sheep’s milk cheese as its fastest growing dairy product.

Married to Rachael and farming with his father and mother, John and Christine Stott, at Laund Farm, Chipping, in the Trough of Bowland, Simon is now running a pedigree flock of British Frieslands with a yield average of 550 litres at 6.38% fat and 5.96% protein. Producers selling milk to Milk Sheep UK are receiving a price in “the mid-80p range” a litre.

Alongside Laund Farm’s 400 milk sheep and 100 dairy flock replacements, the family still retains its original enterprises – 350 Swaledale ewes, 200 Beulah Speckled-faced ewes (plus replacements), a flock of pedigree Bluefaced Leicesters and 50 suckler cows.

Milking at Laund Farm takes 2.5 hours at each end of the day, with ewes milked through a 24:24 parlour designed by the Stotts and made locally. “Our stalls have no yokes. Sheep hate having their heads restrained. This system works well, with ewes held in each stall by a tail-gate and even first-timers settle quickly to the routine.”

The flock is dried off for a month at the beginning of December in readiness for lambing in early January. Lambing percentage is at least 200%. After two days’ sucking, their dams’ lambs are switched to a milk machine for five weeks. All lambs are then moved to an ad-lib diet, with wethers reaching a slaughter weight of 42-44kg at about 12-weeks.

The milking flock is loose housed and fed a mixed ration all year round. Ewes are grazed from spring through to early autumn, but only when the weather is good, and are always housed at night. “This is not a system reliant on grazed grass to produce milk,” he says.

The TMR mix – fed at 5.5kg a head a day – consists of grass silage, whole-crop (lupins and triticale) a bought-in “high energy meal” and brewers’ grains. Molasses is added as necessary. The mix is 17.8% protein and 11.8ME.

British Friesland sheep have proved to be the best milkers at Laund Farm, but bloodlines in the UK are limited and stock is in short supply. Replacement hoggs are selling for £150-£200 and milking ewes are about £150, but prices are increasing.

“To get the yield from milk sheep you need to feed them as well if not better than a high-yielding dairy cow. To maintain production it is essential yield is never allowed to dip. If it does it will not come back during that lactation.”

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com