Managing dairy ewes to produce a better outcome for cheese production
Milk is, of course, a key ingredient in many products such as cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. The high solid content of sheep’s milk (typically 5.4% protein and 7% fat) makes it an ideal ingredient for these products. Due to this, there is a rapidly increasing demand for sheep’s milk, not only in Wales but throughout the UK.
When compared to the conventional dairy cow sector in Wales, there is poor understanding of what factors control the bacteriological profile of sheep’s milk. This project aims to investigate how the following three controllable factors influence the bacteriological profile of the milk over the 2019 and 2020 season.
- Breed of sheep
Milk samples will be taken from a group of Friesland, Lleyn and Friesland x Lleyn ewes to investigate whether genetic differences between breeds have any effect on the bacteriological profile of the milk.
- Stage of lactation
The ewes will be milked from February to June over three lambing blocks. Regular milk testing will assess whether there is a pattern in the bacteriological profile of the ewes’ milk during their lactation cycle.
- Selenium diet supplementation
One group of milking ewes will be used to investigate if selenium supplementation can lead to reduced cases of clinical and sub-clinical mastitis.
Ahead of this potential growth in milking ewes to mass production level, it is important that as much information about the ewes’ milk itself is collected prior to mass production. The group’s vision is to be at the forefront of this emerging sector in Wales and to put a strong foundation in place where the production system is based on high quality milk for the consumer.
The group hope that by gaining a greater understanding of how these three controllable variables affect the overall quality of milk, recommendations can be made to ensure best practice is applied to management systems. Hopefully, by increasing the understanding of this sector, it will encourage more farmers to enter the dairy sheep industry. An increase in dairy sheep farmers will lead to a larger supply base of ewes’ milk. This can create an industry of niche food producers using Welsh ewe milk as a core ingredient in their products.