Monday, March 23, 2009

Yola the Ewe

Last Friday, a Friesian ewe named Yola came to live at our farm. Friesian sheep come from the region of Friesland (where Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium come together). Friesan sheep (like the Holstein or Friesian cow) are dairy sheep. We purchased her in partnership with one of our interns, Courtney.

Yola gives about 7/8 of a gallon of milk each day. While we weren't sure we needed one more daily chore, so far the milking hasn't been too bad (mostly because Courtney has been doing it!). All joking aside, we're excited to be taking on a new project.

The milk is incredible. We're raising several bottle lambs, so we've used her milk instead of buying milk replacer. Even more exciting, Courtney has started making cheese. We sampled her first batch of sheep's milk ricotta cheese yesterday - it was unbelievably good. We have plans to make ice cream, other types of cheese, and yogurt. We're also anxious to use the milk in it's fluid form - it's amazingly sweet. Sheep's milk is naturally homogenized, meaning the cream and the milk are mixed together (and stay that way). No more need to buy half-and-half for our coffee!

We're learning that a dairy animal is very different from the meat and wool producing sheep we're used to. For one thing, a dairy sheep must be kept on a high plane of nutrition while she's lactating. We do feed her some grain at milking to help satisfy her protein and energy needs. Once she's settled in here, we'll put her on grass with the other sheep we keep at home.


  1. Those pics are so cute especially Emma and the new ewe.

    I think it is so cool that Dan is so forward thinking as to partner with interns on projects like this as it inspires a great sense of community and harkens back to the days of old when people used to share food like this.

    Kudos to Courtney for taking this on as well and that first batch of cheese was delicious! Thanks for sharing Courtney!

    I was telling my wife about Courtney's cheese when I got home from working on the ranch that same day and I said to her that the feeling of sitting down in a pasture surrounded by nature, the sheep you are working with, and new friends all while eating home made cheese/bread really captured for me the reason why I love working with Dan on his ranch. It really gave me a sense of how things could be for more people if they chose to re-connect with a larger sense of the community they live in when it comes to local food and the people who grow and make it.

    It was an all-around fun day yesterday.

  2. I am curious, does a milk producing sheep need to routinely be kept pregnant in order for it to keep lactating? In which case will its lambs also be of the same breed and therefore dairy sheep, and as such what will you do with them?

    I am also curious about the safety of drinking the milk straight from the animal as it were (not literally), as opposed to it being pasturized like cows milk from a store. Is it perfectly safe to consume as is?

    I wish I could have tried the cheese and enjoyed the wonderful day that it sounds like you all had. Keep up the great work and wonderful blog.

  3. A dairy animal must give birth to lactate. In the case of our ewe, she should lactate for about 10 months (which is much longer than our meat breed sheep will lactate). We'll breed her in July to lamb in January. We'll let her "dry up" in October, so she'll go two months without producing milk.

    We'll breed her to our Bluefaced Leicester ram, so the offspring will be cross-breds. We may try to milk one her daughters, but we'll see. If we don't keep any lambs to milk, we'll sell them.

    If the milk is handled properly, it is safe to consume raw. We may pastuerize the milk that we'll use in fluid form. The cheese making process heats the milk to 200 degrees, so it should destroy any harmful bacteria. We did drink raw milk at the Mentze's (the folks who sold us the ewe) - it was the best milk I've ever tasted!