I get heaps of ideas when I’m driving, and there certainly seems to be a lot of motoring needed with Lizard Man and Cricket Mad having to be here, there and everywhere – particularly in the school holidays. I have been thinking, of the many funny stories of sheep, the dairy and cheese that I almost can’t wait to share with you. In this post, however, I’ve decided to discuss our philosophy of ewe management, very poignant at this time of the year, given the girls are in their final weeks of lactation. Animal health and well-being is one of the most frequent issues people ask me about at markets is integral to the way we manage our farm.
Interestingly, sheep milking has a deeper history than dairy cows. Cheese was developed as a way of preserving milk for the period when the animals were dry in the European winters. Sheep would spend winters on the plain and summers in the Alps. In overcoming this seasonality, we have bred cows to produce massive volumes over long lactation periods. However, we are now realising that this sort of interference is not without its problems and at the expense of seasonal variation. Sheep however, still live by their natural annual rhythm that comes and goes with the seasons.
So, in early May, we will dry the ewes off and give them a well-earned break. The breed of sheep we milk is called the East Friesian breed. They have been in the country for over a decade and have yet to be extensively used for milking. We are the only pure East Friesian dairy in Australia. When you look at these girls, you can see the generations of careful selection which has been put into making them the world’s highest and best milkers. They do particularly well in the European-like clime of the Southern Highlands.
People will forgiven for thinking this looks more like a goat from behind. It’s not, it’s one of our beautiful girls. Look at that clean udder and breach area delightfully clear of wool. The long “rat like” tail means we don’t have to dock their tails. There is a ewe in the dairy now who has an amazing ability to use hers like a whip! Leaning over to put the cups on, if you’re not careful, you can suddenly get a slap across the face. It’s enough to bring tears to your eyes!
The girls, now well pregnant, will spend the next 2 months taking a break in some specially sown paddocks I have ready for them. I feel this time is extremely important for them as both lambing and milk production takes a massive toll on their bodies. We have girls in the dairy who are going into their seventh or eighth lactation. Extraordinary, when you think that most meat or wool sheep are ditched at 5 or 6. Our careful management keeps the ewes in optimum health and extends their productive capacity.
But much as I love seeing the ewes grazing lush pastures, I am dying to get my hands on to those massive post lambing udders again!!!