In May 2015 we started trying to develop the portable sheep milking idea so that I can go out to farms on Exmoor, and in particular, Castle Hill Farm where Tara Wright farms the Devon Closewool – a rare breed sheep with extraordinary quality milk.
But in the first instance Tara is helping me learn to manage the sheep so I can decide what equipment to make/buy, so the experiment begins in her barn:
The idea is to milk these sheep once the lambs are on grass – a symbiotic sharing model of milking – not industrial or intensive:
The Closewools were very relaxed – business as usual, especially as the machine is more like the lambs than hand milking. A successful day!
But getting the milking machine into the car was a big bottleneck.
After getting advice, I bought a Landrover Defender Hi-Cap. The Hi-Cap body can be completely removed, adapted, a pull out mobile sheep race could be added. Not only will this portable sheep milking bail go anywhere, but the Defender has a PTO which means I should be able to run a generator from the drive shaft. Very exciting project!
Tara and Roscoe picked out some Closewools for me to milk. Making the ‘Wright’ choices (Tara Wright – yes?). Based on years of experience:
The chosen few – I call them the ‘Alpha league’
I milked about 7 at a time. Unbelievable – I got 9 litres of milk from 18 ewes. That compares to a more typical dairy sheep breed. And the Closewool was not traditionally a dairy sheep.
Tara worked out a method and helped me for the first 2 hours. She came back later and said she was Very Proud of me! It’s tough, but I have an excellent teacher who is giving me the opportunity to learn something I’ve dreamt of, and well, what can I say except I am the luckiest person in the world.
The cheesemaking went very well. Sheep’s milk is richer in protein and butterfat than Cow’s or Goat’s milk. But the Closewool milk is much richer than the conventional dairy sheep’s milk, with butterfat and protein around 65% higher . I have very little of this precious milk so I am working with Paul Thomas – Artisan Dairy Consultant extraordinaire. We started from the lab results and he worked out an optimal recipe for me:
Nearly finished – this is after the last brandy wash. An Epoisse style cheese. Very pleased with this first lot of cheeses and the yield was fantastic, almost no waste at all: