Managing dairy ewes to produce a better outcome for cheese production
The high solid content of sheep’s milk (typically 5.4% protein and 7% fat) makes it an ideal ingredient for products such as cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. 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 aimed to investigate how the following three controllable factors influence the bacteriological profile of the milk.
1. Breed of sheep
Milk samples were 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.
2. Stage of lactation
The ewes were milked from February to June over three lambing blocks. Regular milk testing assessed whether there was a pattern in the bacteriological profile of the ewes’ milk during their lactation cycle.
3. Selenium diet supplementation
One group of milking ewes was 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 was collected prior to mass production. The group’s vision was 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.
- There is great potential for the Lleyn sheep breed to be well suited to being a productive native breed for Welsh producers for both meat and high-quality milk for human consumption.
- A “low input- low output” system as practiced on the project farm, is well suited to the Lleyn breed and to diary sheep farming in Wales.
- Monitoring Somatic Cell Count and bacterial plate counts closely has the potential to help with selection criteria for future flock breeding by eliminating ewes from the flock that are chronically infected with sub-clinical mastitis to help improve and further the level of production and milk quality.