Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sheep Milking and No Rest for the Retired

Wow... That's about how I feel after my first week of "Retirement". It wasn't really a whole week with July 4th tucked in there. I have to blame Kathy L. somewhat with talking about milking sheep - Kathy did you get any of yours milked?

On July 4th, we separated all of the Shetland and Finn moms from their lambs (except for Fancy and Emmie who lambed later). It was NOISY around here with fireworks and unhappy sheep and lambs. I waited for a time (after retiring!) when I could try milking ewes twice a day, so Thursday morning I went out with my handy EZ Milker, extra bottles, washing basin and a bucket of grain. Our creep gate has a head holder in it, so my bright idea was to hold ewes in the head gate, give them a pan of grain, milk them one by one, and try to get a couple gallons of milk to try making sheep cheese.

Well, the first morning we fumbled a little, but mostly got milk. About 6 cups worth for the first try from 2 adult and 2 yearling Finns, 5 adult Shetlands and 1 yearling Shetland. Some behaved well and gave pretty good milk considering they're late in their lactation cycle, some went wild and were very difficult to get any milk from.

Thursday evening, I went at it again. Thinking to save my back a little, I took the shearing stand and placed it against the head gate. Once the sheep were on the stand and in the head gate, it worked great! It was the getting to that point that whipped me good! No one willingly led up the ramp, it was all I could do to pull and push them up. By the last sheep I was ready to quit - but they gave me 10.5 cups this time! One of the Finnsheep gave a whole pint by herself, and one of the Shetlands gave most of a pint. Good sheepies. Another of the Shetlands was such a PITA that she was taken off the milking roster. Once on the shearing stand, she collapsed and wouldn't get up. After she finally got up, she bucked and reared in the head gate, making milking nigh onto impossible. I think I got a cupfull from her.. maybe.

This morning I went back to milking on the ground, and got almost 9 cups (without Daphne's contribution). Still, it was not the relaxing experience I'd kind of expected. Sheep are supposed to learn that the milking makes them feel better - releasing the pressure of that milk buildup. hmmmmm. I guess they didn't read that part. A couple of the sheep did, and they're pretty easy, Thank you Electra, Bessie and Daisy! The rest fight the head gate, fight the EZ Milker and fight me. After tonight, I dropped another from the roster - Asa, for such a gentle sheep, you're a bear to milk. We got another 6 cups tonight.

Actually, it's part of my plan to taper them off, so the smaller amount is okay. I have almost 2 gallons in the freezer, enough to try some cheeses and maybe yogurt. My original plan was to milk them for a week or two. Unless things get much easier, a week will be more than enough for this experiment!

Even considering the "difficult" sheep, it is kind of rewarding to sit amongst the ewes, milking one while several others snuffle around and try to see what's going on. Maybe after a couple more days, we'll all be used to the routine and things will go easier and faster. heh... maybe by then I'll only be milking Electra, Daisy and Bessie and won't even need the head gate. One can wish.

Milking these few sheep twice a day, including preparing bottles and freezing the milk, is taking 4 to 6 hours out of my day. That's half or more of a regular workday! I have new appreciation for folks who milk any mammal regularly.


Kathy said...

Hiya, Franna!
Tina called me today and let me know you were milking! Good onya! I'm glad one of us is "productive"! :)
Since I have had this back surgery, I had to give up the dreams of my own sheeps' milk cheeses - at least for this year. I am not even allowed to bend over or lift anything, even after 10 days, so my DH has been feeding, etc. the sheep & chickens. The poor guy is so exhausted I just don't have the heart to mention "milking" to him. (rofl)
I have a lot of information on different cheeses as well as a freezer full of cultures. And it IS time to wean off the lambs. What a rotten time to have to have surgery on the spine!
I can hardly wait for more escapades of the "retired" sheep milk cheese lady!

Franna said...

Oh, Kathy! I'd love to see some of your recipes if you want to share. The ones I was going to try are in Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book - we got a copy in '76. Drove from Pullman to Idaho and assembled it ourselves in the church(?)
I was hoping you'd gotten some milk before your surgery.
What a nice guy - chores by yourself get old fast!
- Franna