Farm Horizons, February 1999

Area family milks sheep

By Russell Victorian

There are only three sheep milkers in the state of Minnesota, and one family of sheep milkers lives just six miles southeast of Glencoe.

Jan and William Brady first started milking sheep on their farm in the fall of 1997.

It went well, so they started milking them again in 1998, beginning in May.

"There were more sheep milked in the world in 1989 than cows, and I assume that is still true today," said Jan Brady.

Some of the world's most famous cheeses, such as Feta, Rizotta, Pecorino Romano and Roquefant come from sheep's milk, she said.

The Bradys have been raising sheep since 1991, and Jan Brady said it was their goal to milk sheep some day.

Their base flock consists of Polypay sheep, which are supposed to be one of the best domestic milk producing sheep, she said.

More recently, the Bradys purchased two East Friesian rams, originally from Germany, Jan Brady said. East Friesian sheep have been around since about 1530 in Germany. It is the most productive milk sheep in the world.

A ban was recently lifted that allowed them to purchase the East Friesian rams. Jan Brady said frozen East Friesian sheep embryos were shipped from Europe to Canada. There they were implanted into recipient ewes.

The Bradys imported two of the rams from Canada to their farm. She said they had to be approved and permitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be brought in to the U.S.

The Bradys have 98 ewes that are one to two years old, which are now approximately 50 percent to 75 percent East Friesian.

The goal is to eventually have a 100 percent East Friesian flock, Jan Brady said.

Currently they are milking about 48 ewes and will add more as their lambs are weaned, she said.

Each ewe is producing about three pounds a day, Jan Brady said. They get about 120 to 130 pounds of milk a day from the milking flock.

The milk is then frozen. The Bradys are members of the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative, who will be the purchaser and shipper of their milk. The co-op will then ship the milk to buyers around the Midwest and New York.

Currently there are 14 sheep milkers in the Wisconsin Co-op, 10 from Wisconsin, one from Nebraska and three from Minnesota. The other two are in Carver and Stillwater, Jan Brady said.

Sheep milk is made into cheese and ewegurt, similar to yogurt, and is found in stores around the Twin Cities, usually the smaller market stores, she said.

Right now, the Bradys are storing their frozen sheep milk until they get some new equipment which will allow them to ship the milk, and when the co-op obtains its plant status.

She said they should be shipping the milk in a month or so.

The Bradys first thought about milking sheep after reading a magazine article. Further research on the subject made them even more interested.

Jan Brady said there were several reasons why they got into milking sheep.

Sheep are relatively easier to handle, she said, and one can get three products from the sheep, including meat, wool and milk.

Brady said meat of the East Friesian sheep is leaner than other breeds of sheep.

The sheep also do not need large shelters, she said. They only need housing when they are lambing in the winter.

And finally, because "I like them." Brady said she is not into milking sheep for the money. "It is my retirement, and I enjoy it."

She said the sheep are like children, and they respond to her voice.

The Bradys' sheep graze on 48 acres of pasture and are rotated regularly, she said. Twice a day, around 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., the ewes are milked. It takes about 2 1/2 hours at each milking.

As the volume increases, she said they hope to get a bulk tank. Most of their equipment was originally used for milking dairy cows, except for the milking claws and pulsator and other equipment made especially for the sheep.

Most of the sheep milking equipment comes from Sweden, France or England, Brady said. The Bradys have a closed flock, which means all the ewes are "our own" replacement. It keeps the flock healthy.

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