Sustainable year-round sheep milking management

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,994.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Michael Thonney
Cornell University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: feed formulation, feed rations, livestock breeding
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    American lamb is a valuable commodity, particularly in the market-rich Northeast. Sheep milk products offer an additional way to diversify production. The US is the major importer of sheep milk and sheep milk products (mainly from Europe) with 50 to 60% of the annual world exports (Thomas et al., 2014). According to FAO statistics, the US imported 24,160 tons (53 million pounds) of cheese and sheep milk in 2010 (FAO, 2015). This provides immense possibilities for new, emerging markets. The demand for sheep dairy products is constantly on the rise. The consumption of sheep milk cheeses in the United States, as measured by imports, increased by 30 percent in the 20-year period from 1985 to 2005 (Williams, 2008). Furthermore, there are millions of unused acres available for forage production in the US that could be used for sustainable lamb and sheep dairy farming. Considering growth potential of the markets as well as the availability of essential inputs, the possibility ofproviding regional products for the growing lamb and sheep milk markets is significant.  We propose to optimize diets for milking aseasonally-bred, traditional meat sheep managed under the STAR accelerated lambing system year-round in short lactations. This innovative, elegant approach will increase flock productivity threefold: 1) marketing higher quantities of product; 2) increasing product value by year-round marketing; and 3) adding a second product: milk/milk products to a traditional meat flock or meat to a traditional dairy operation. The added value of a second product will dilute farming costs over more product. Using aseasonally-bred meat sheep for a dairy environment will decrease the impact of two restrictions ondairy sheep production in the US: 1) a limited dairy breed gene pool because too few dairy sheep were imported before the implementation of stringent import restrictions, and 2) a low supply of milk during fall and winter, due to the seasonal breeding of traditional dairy sheep breeds. A data-driven analysis of milking traditional meat sheep under the STAR accelerated lambing management system suggests that milking aseasonally-breeding, properly-fed, non-dairy ewes in lactations of 73 to 105 days (5 lactations/3 years) could achieve similar year-round milk yields and more lambs produced than from dairy ewes in one annual 190-day lactation. SheepFlock, a comprehensive whole farm budgeting model derived from economic analysis and research data will be equipped with an easily accessible interface. This will provide farmers with a business tool to elevate their productivity and economic success, allowing for improving the resilience of rural farming communities in the Northeast.  

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Determine optimal dietary levels of fermentable fiber (NDF) for maximum milk production, optimal ewe body condition, fertility, and health. Verify previous observations about the positive effect of fermentable NDF on feed intake and milk production.
    2. Record observations on milking behavior of meat breed ewes.
    3. Record health problems and responses to treatments.
    4. Compare published values for 190-day, yearly lactations of traditionally-milked dairy-breed ewes with yield and components of Finnsheep x Dorset ewes milked in 73- to 103-day lactations.
    5. Record prolificacy and lamb survival under the STAR accelerated system in a milking sheep environment.
    6. Evaluate the sustainability of a flock of frequently milked traditional meat sheep.
    7. Update feed requirements and economic outputs of the SheepFlock financial simulation with data from the milking project and provide an easily accessible interface to serve as a management tool for sheep farmers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.