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Black and Coloured Milking Sheep Appearing in Paddocks All Over New Zealand

By Kim Lewis, Alamae Stud

The most commonly associated breed of sheep associated with milking is the (white) East Friesian which like their bovine cousins of the same name are, le’s face it, not the prettiest animal to see in New Zealand paddocks.

A mob of Zwartbles, photo LM Alamae

But did you know that the Zwartble, a black/brown coloured sheep breed, with distinctively white points, is the basis of that breed? They also have naturally coloured long wool, which is also good for spinning and crafts.

In the 1800s, in Europe, farmers decided they wanted milk and white fibre (OK I’m simplifying but that’s the lay version), so they selected for the white sheep and called them East Friesian. Unfortunately by breeding out the colour they also lost the breed’s good meat production and their ability to throw robust lambs which grow fast.

It’s ironic when you think about it, as the East Friesian and other milk breeds may produce a larger volume of milk over a slightly longer lactation period, but their lambs are often finer boned and thinner skinned and in Europe are lambed in barns. Their milk is also lower in total solids when compared to the Zwartble and other cross-bred and pure breeds that produce a lower volume of milk, of which a lower percentage is water – and that is what a farmer is paid on – total solids!

Daphne, a Catherwood cross (including some Romney) ewe, standing patiently while we milk her. Photo LM Alamae

So why grow water? If you haven’t tried milking your pet sheep yet, give it a go! She’ll have plenty to share with you and her lambs, and trust me the milk tastes how milk used to taste –  creamy delicious milk!!!

Imagine next year how amazing it would be if you have a coloured ewe in your paddock with a beautiful coloured lamb, the ewe’s fleece in your craft room and fresh naturally A2 super high protein sheep milk on hand. You can share milk with the ewe’s lamb after the lamb is three days old and her milk supply has transitioned from colostrum to milk.

Remember though – you don’t need a fancy milk breed of sheep – you can milk any ewe who has had a lamb and will stand in a milking pen for you and let you milk her by hand. Or the ewe can be milked using a milking machine, but when it’s just a handful of ewes I prefer to hand milk. When we start milking our main mob of up to 600 ewes (after they have raised their lambs to weaning weight) we do use a mobile milking plant, but we’re still up close and personal with our girls who all have their own personalities!

The ‘craft’ you can make using sheep milk is only limited by your imagination!

Photo LM Alamae

The photo alongside, shows our mobile milking machine with 16 happy ewes enjoying the start to their day with cuddles and attention. The number of black and coloured sheep in our mob is growing exponentially but they do tend to all hang out together towards the back of the milking queue!!

More to follow in future blogs on milking sheep and why it’s a no brainer to have a house sheep rather than a house cow!!!

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