Dairy sheep are not commonly raised in the southeastern United States. However, there is a wide market for dairy products from sheep, especially where high quality cheeses are enjoyed. Furthermore, sheep milk has qualities that over the centuries have proven it to be excellent for cheese and yoghurt.
Because wool does not bring the prices that it once did, sheep owners are looking for other income sources. One answer is to develop a milking hair sheep. The producer raises Katahdin meat sheep which are a hair breed. They are developed from the St. Croix, a hair breed indigenous to the Caribbean. The producer noticed that some individuals in her herd seemed to be very heavy milkers with well-attached udders and good teats, comparable to modern grade dairy goats.
While it would be possible to promote this trait by selection within the breed, out-crossing is faster and carries the added benefit of hybrid vigor. The East Friesian is a high-producing dairy breed. It is known world-wide for its superior milking abilities.
The producer out-bred her Katahdin to the East Friesian hoping to strike a balance between the low-maintenance hair sheep and the highly inbred dairy sheep. Her plan is ultimately to produce an easily maintained and productive animal for low-input, part-time farmers.
In the three years of the project, she found that the biggest losses in the hair-sheep population were due to worms. She also found that all sheep, regardless of age, are as susceptible as lambs and that the largest males must be closely monitored due to their susceptibility. She also made some empirical observations that correlated amount of hair cover with resistance.
This producer’s recommendation to others who want to try raising dairy hair sheep is that crossbreds have proven more adaptable than the East Friesian parents. She also recommends, particularly with the current strong market for sheep milk and cheese, to use the first cross for dairying and not their offspring.