Friday, November 29, 2013

I want a dairy farm

Over the past several years, I have visited  many small ruminant dairies. In Brazil, China, France, and the United States. I have visited the Spooner Research Station in Wisconsin on a couple of occasions.  Spooner is the only dairy sheep research facility in the United States. A couple of years ago, I bought a Lacaune x Katahdin ram. I have been infusing dairy genetics into my Katahdin flock.

My first dairy cross ewe: 
31% Lacaune x 69% Katahdin
My initial interest in dairy sheep is to improve the milk production of my Katahdins. It's not that Katahdins are bad milkers. In fact, the opposite is true. I think they are very good milk producers.  But my goal is for a good percentage of my mature ewes to give birth to and raise triplets. Hence, more milk is advisable. More milk will also make twins grow faster. I measure a ewe's performance by the collective weaning weight of her offspring. I can make good money on sheep if a ewe weans three 80 to 90 lb. lambs at 90 days. Two 90-lb. lambs isn't bad either.

I really like the Lacaune breed.  In the part of France I visited, all of the dairy sheep were Lacaune. All of their milk was made into the world famous Roquefort cheese. In fact, Roquefort cheese can only be made from milk that comes from Lacaune ewes. At the AI stud we visited, there were Lacaune rams that excelled in milk production, meat production, and reproduction (high reproductive rate). I would love to get my hands on some of their semen.

Lacaune ewes in France
Lacaunes produce milk with more butterfat than the East Friesian, the only other dairy sheep in the United States. They also have less wool covering. Who wants a lot of wool on a dairy sheep?  Or a meat sheep, for that matter? Unfortunately, there aren't many Lacuanes in the United States and we are unable to import new genetics from Europe. Maybe, by the time I retire, we will be able to import Lacaune semen from France.

I also like dairy goats. They produce more milk than sheep, but their milk is not as rich. Dairy goat milk is ideal for drinking, whereas sheep milk is better for making cheese. In the minimum, I'd like to have a dairy goat to produce milk for me to drink. If government regulations weren't so burdensome, I'd like to have a small ruminant dairy, with both sheep and goats. I'd prefer to sell milk, as a supplement to raising sheep and goats for meat. Cheese-making is a possibility, but I'd have a lot to learn and even more regulations to deal with. I could make soap. Then, I'd only have to register with the ATF.

Dairy goats in China.
Not sure whether I'd raise Nigerian Dwarfs or full-size dairy goats. I've always liked Alpines (and Saanens are growing on me) and I could cross big dairy does with meat goat bucks to get more marketable kids. Don't know what I'd be able to do with the male kids from Nigerian Dwarfs. I don't want to sell pet goats.

I am also intrigued by the way most small ruminant dairy animals are raised. In most countries, they are raised mostly in confinement, especially goats. This appeals to me because I do not have a lot of land for grazing. I like intensive methods of animal production. It makes more sense to me to use the land to produce feed. On good quality land, livestock are very inefficient at harvesting forage. Animal production is more successful when everything is controlled, especially the diet. Plus, I like the health, welfare, and behavior of housed animals.

Dairy goat facility in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Many people don't understand why I want a dairy farm. Seems that dairy farms have developed a bad image, having to milk twice a day, year-round. Too much work. What they don't understand is that there are different options for managing dairy animals. Milking doesn't have to be year-round. It can be seasonal. With sheep, it is common to leave the lambs on for 30 days, after which time the ewes are milked. It's not necessary to milk twice a day or at ungodly hours. I'd be more interested in milking ewes to supplement the meat enterprise. As for goats, I just want some milk for my own consumption. In fact, I'd probably leave the kids on the doe.

Sannen does in Brazil.
Another reason for a small ruminant dairy is simply because I love working with animals. Dairy animals are the easiest to work with because they are use to frequent handling. Dairying also offers an additional opportunity to produce an income. Meat production doesn't have a lot of profit margin.

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