Developing a Dairy Hair Sheep: Assessing the Potentials
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 plans to out-breed her Katahdin to the East Friesian hoping to strike a balance between the low-maintenance hair sheep and the highly inbred dairy sheep. She plans ultimately to produce an easily maintained and productive animal for low-input, part-time farmers.
Even though the producer can not produce a fully haired dairy sheep within the time allotted for this study, she plans to show it to be quite possible to breed an animal that may ultimately replace wooled milking sheep, even in commercial dairies. The data from the animals being milked in this study should give a clear idea of the potential.
Virginia State University