Sheep are an incredible multi-purpose homestead animal that can thrive even on small acreage. If you want to be part of the sheep movement in the homesteading world, this is a great episode to help you consider whether dairy sheep are a good fit for you!
After listening to this episode, you are going to be itching to add dairy sheep to your homestead! Rachel gives an overview of all of the most commonly asked questions about getting started with dairy sheep: milk quality, sheep breeds, breeding, milking, feeding, and more!
In this episode, we cover:
- What makes sheep such a great multi-purpose homestead animal
- Exploring the health benefits and taste of sheep milk
- Description of dairy sheep breeds and which are best for beginners
- Managing the breeding and lactation cycles of dairy sheep
- Various approaches to the nutritional needs of dairy sheep
E21: All About Dairy Sheep (An Incredible Multi-Purpose Homestead Animal) | Rachel Hester of Whoopsy Daisy Farm – Homesteaders of America
Thank you to our sponsor!
McMurray Hatchery offers a wide selection of poultry breeds and supplies to assist you with raising your flock. Find what you need at McMurrayHatchery.com!
Rachel Hester is the author of ‘The Guide to Homestead Dairy sheep’ due to be released by Sawdust Publishing in the fall of 2023. She lives in central Kentucky with her husband and son on 8 ½ acres. Using regenerative agriculture methods to reclaim denatured hayfields into a thriving farm while also supporting her husband’s occupation in Emergency Services has led her to some out of the box management styles for her livestock. In addition to dairy and heritage breed sheep, she has chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, honeybees, angora rabbits and a Jersey cow on her farm. She is a fiber artist and loves handspinning and knitting her sheep’s wool into garments for her family.
Sign up to receive updates from Sawdust Publishing and Whoopsy Daisy Farm about the release of Rachel’s forthcoming book, The Guide to Homestead Dairy Sheep
Episode 20 of the HOA podcast with Janet Garman all about wool sheep
Rachel Hester of Whoopsy Daisy Farm | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube
Homesteaders of America | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest
All About Dairy Sheep Transcript
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America Podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences, and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support. And we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Welcome back to the Homesteaders of America podcast. Thank you for joining me again this week. I have special guest Rachel Hester. Rachel, welcome to the podcast.
Rachel Hester Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me.
Amy Fewell Yeah, sure. All right. So for those of you who don’t know Rachel, why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Rachel Hester Okay. So I’m Rachel Hester, and I am in central Kentucky. We have eight and a half acres of old hay fields. So when we first moved there, we had no topsoil. So we did the typical homesteader thing and got all the poultry and tried doing eggs and poultry meat. But in Kentucky, everyone has eggs and poultry meat. So we now have sheep as our main farm product and we still have the poultry for our own consumption. We have small lard pigs, we have honeybees, and we have a milk cow. So we’re kind of trying the multispecies homesteading thing. And then my husband works in emergency services, so we kind of have to do things a little differently than the typical homesteader because his schedule is crazy. So we’ve had to learn how to make our animals very flexible, which has its own set of challenges and stuff.
Amy Fewell Well, it sounds like you’re just homesteading away over there and that’s awesome. Today we are specifically talking about dairy sheep. You guys who have been listening consistently to the podcast know the last couple of episodes have been about sheep breaking down the different uses for sheep and how to raise them. And there’s been some fantastic nuggets of information in all of those episodes. But today Rachel and I are specifically going to talk about dairy sheep because this is Rachel’s specialty. She is an expert. She is the cause of me getting sheep, dairy sheep. She was like, “Hey, did you know that you could do this and this and get dairy?”
Rachel Hester I did.
Amy Fewell Yeah, she did. She was totally an enabler.
Rachel Hester I did. I did. It was an evil plan.
Amy Fewell So anyhow. Rachel, let’s dive in. Let’s talk about dairy sheep. Why don’t you give us just a general lowdown of dairy sheep and who they might work for, what homesteader they might work for.
Rachel Hester Sure. Okay, so dairy sheep are awesome. I’ll just start there. Because you can get three products from them. You know, a lot of people are concerned with a dual purpose animal and sheep can be a tri purpose animal. And if you want to go into like the nitty gritty of all the other products they have, they can be a multi product animal. So if you want them for dairy, you can get milk, you can get meat, and you can get wool. And then you can also go into things like their manure is really beneficial. I think the other people you interviewed talked about that a bit. With dairy sheep. The dairy specific breeds are all wool breeds, and so you get actually quite a bit of lanolin, which is a very nourishing byproduct. It makes really good skincare products and stuff. So we like them. And the other thing is they don’t require as much property as larger livestock like a cow or large breeds of pigs and that kind of thing. And with dairy sheep, you can have one or two sheep for the milk, and you have your milk supply with just those two. I also like them because you can do nondairy breeds of sheep and still get milk, and you get better wool quality or better meat supply or what have you with that. So I really think they’re a great option for the homesteader because a lot of us can’t just dive in with a couple hundred acres and do the popular models of stuff. A lot of us, I’m noticing, have one acre or five acres or that kind of thing. And so sheep really do fit well into that model, especially if you have multiple species. They’re also really kid friendly because most breeds are under 200 pounds, more around 100 pounds. So we just had our first kid and we’re really looking forward to seeing how he grows up with the sheep and what he wants to do with them. But kids love lambs. They are very comfortable around sheep. And playing with wool is a really great thing for kids to dive into because felting is really super easy. It’s a fun craft and then you have a great product at the end of it you can sell. But then I’ve actually taught kids to drop spindle, which is… It’s like a disc with a stick, and you just kind of twist it like a top, and at the end of it you have yarn. So kids really like that. And then there’s another product at the end of it. They do require some skill learning curves when you get into it, but it’s not ridiculous.
Amy Fewell Yeah. So now for those… I know there’s people saying, “I didn’t even know you could milk sheep,” right? Why don’t you give us some of the benefits of sheep milk and what the differences between sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and all of that?
Rachel Hester Sure. So actually, sheep were a far more popular homesteading dairy animal in the past than cows were. Especially in the United Kingdom, where sheep were such a popular animal for the wool and the meat. Actually quite a few people milked their sheep and didn’t have cows. And it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the cows became far more popular as a dairy animal. But the milk specifically— sheep milk has the lowest amount of lactose out of cow, goat, and sheep. So it’s actually closest to human breastmilk out of any of the milkable animals. So people who have issues digesting lactose products a lot of times can digest sheep milk. And if you are lactose intolerant, there is a Polish study where they had women who are lactose intolerant consume sheep milk kefir, and they found that the kefir in the fermentation process actually produced lactase. So even though they were lactose intolerant, they could consume it. They didn’t quite work with yogurt, but it worked with the kefir. So sheep milk is also naturally A2A2, but it’s a different kind of A2A2 than the cow. The fats are still… Or the proteins are shaped differently. So we switched to A2A2 cow milk for a while and we’d noticed a lot of health improvements with that. And then we got sheep just because… It’s a very long story involving COVID and all that gobbledygook. But we got sheep and we started drinking milk and we noticed that we had other health issues kind of disappear. Like we didn’t realize we still had inflammation, and consuming the sheep milk, that actually started going away. So the proteins are smaller, more densely packed. And the whey has the highest amount of certain proteins that are really beneficial, like proline, lactoferrin, or orotic acid. And scientists are studying those proteins and just what health benefits they have, and it’s really kind of exciting what those have. So goat and cow milk do have those proteins, but sheep milk has at least two times the amount, if not more, depending where they’re at and what they’re eating. So that’s the milk sugar, that’s the protein, and then the fats are really kind of cool. They are smaller and have a higher distribution, and so there’s more minerals with the sheep milk because fats and minerals are cofactors. So there’s a lot of specifics there, too, with the different fats. I can really geek out on stuff like that if you want to go into it.
Amy Fewell Well in general, it sounds like just sheep milk in general is just healthier even from goat’s milk and cow’s milk. I mean, it makes sense, right? You’re taking a 100 to 200 pound animal that is going to feed a baby that will only weigh 100 to 200 pounds versus 1,000 pound cow. Right? That’s raising a baby that’s going to come to be 1,000 pounds. And so one of the biggest questions people will ask is, “Well, what on earth does sheep milk even taste like? Is it homogenized? Is it non homogenized? What’s the difference in that?
Rachel Hester That’s actually a big concern because, you know, I think goat milk… You either love goat milk or you hate goat milk, and there’s really no in-between. So everyone comes to me and they’re like, “What is the sheep milk like? Is it like goat milk? So sheep milk is actually known as the champagne of milks. So it’s very sweet. I had a lady come over to my house, and I gave her a little glass of sheep milk to try. And she liked it so much, when she finished the glass, she went to the sink and rinsed the cup out and drank the rinse water because she loved it so much, which I personally would not do. I’ve had toddlers come and they’ll try our raw jersey milk, and they’re like, “Okay, that’s fine.” And then I have the toddlers try the sheep milk. I have to cut them off because they will just keep drinking it and drinking it and drinking it. I’m like, “Mama, you’re going to have some interesting diapers tomorrow.”
Amy Fewell Oh, yeah.
Rachel Hester And because of the higher fat content, I don’t want to say it’s like drinking half and half because especially if you have a Jersey cow, and you have that half and half, it’s not really comparable. But if you took store bought half and half, it’s kind of between vitamin D milk and half and half in its thickness. It’s not like goopy or too thick. It’s just very satisfying. So like in the high summer where we are working and it’s humid and you just don’t want to eat, at the end of our workday, we’ll just have a nice glass of sheep milk and we’re good, and fall asleep and we’re full.
Amy Fewell Awesome. So why don’t we talk about some sheep breeds? Like what are some dairy specific breeds that people can look for? And what would you recommend in regard to kind of like the first sheep? Like if somebody were getting into dairy sheep, what were some breeds you would consider to get them started really well?
Rachel Hester So it is actually currently illegal to import sheep from other countries right now. And so when they closed the importation of sheep, we didn’t have dairy specific breeds in this country except for the Clun Forest. So we have a breed registry for the Clun Forest, and I actually mainly started researching them recently and I told my husband I wish I knew about them sooner because that’s probably the breed I would have picked if I could have, but I didn’t know about them. So there’s Clun Forest, which is a British breed, and they’re currently known mainly as a wool breed, so they have very nice wool in addition to their milk. They’re known as the jersey cow of the dairy sheep, so they have an even higher fat content. So that’s Clun Forest. They’re probably the least well known dairy breed in the dairy specific breeds of sheep. The most well-known breed is the East Friesian. They’re kind of the Holstein cow of the sheep world. They have the lowest fat content. They’re really large animals. They produce a lot of sheep milk. There’s some that will produce a gallon a day if you manage them right.
Amy Fewell Right.
Rachel Hester They’re also a bit more fragile. They’re more susceptible to diseases and parasites because they’re putting all of their inputs into the milk. So people wanting East Freisians should be aware of that. If you want to go in for East Friesians, make sure you talk to your breeder and ask like, “What are your management styles? How much intervention do you need to do? What are they eating?” That kind of stuff. Because most of the East Friesian breeders I’m aware of feed a ton of corn to get that milk supply up, which isn’t the end of the world. It’s just I don’t digest corn or soy very well, so I have to be careful about that when I’m buying animals. And East Friesians have fairly decent wool. Some people get really snobby about wool, but I like the East Friesian wool for socks and sweaters and homesteading stuff. And then there’s the Awassi sheep. Globally, Awassi are the most common dairy breed. They’re incredibly hard to get here in the United States. They are working on a breed registration for them, so hopefully they’ll be more accessible. But just in the United States, they’re not very easy to come by, and they’re incredibly expensive. You have to be on a waiting list, but they are very hardy. They produce really good milk and their fleece is definitely more rug yarn. So if you want to make carpets and stuff… I also really love wool. Sorry, that’s why I keep going into the types of wool these breeds have because I like wool.
Amy Fewell Right.
Rachel Hester Anyway, so that’s the Awassi. And then there’s the Assaf breed, which is kind of a combination between the East Friesian and the Awassi. So they were taking the Awassi genes and bringing it to the East Friesian to try to get them to be a little bit hardier. So those are the dairy specific breeds. Now for a homesteader wanting to get into sheep dairy, I don’t know if I would recommend them dive into a dairy specific breed right away, unless they were just completely sold, they wanted sheep milk. Just because, again, they’re hard to find. They’re incredibly expensive. You’re probably going to be on a waiting list, so it’s going to take a lot of input and time to get those specific breeds. But the good news is that there’s a lot of breeds of sheep and they all produce milk. So the thing with that is that if you want to do a nondairy specific breed of sheep, the main caveat is you don’t know what their lactation time is going to be, you don’t know what their udders are going to be like, and you don’t know what their teats are going to be like, which if you’re hand milking like I do, knowing what they’re teats are going to look like is kind of a big deal.
Amy Fewell Very important.
Rachel Hester It’s very important. We have Gulf Coast Native sheep, which are a land raised breed from the American South, and I have a couple of ewes where they’ve got nice long the size of my finger type seats and I can grab onto them. And I’ve got one where she has jelly bean teats and I have to milk her with my pinkies and it’s awful versus like my East Friesian crosses. I mean they’ve got nice large teats that you can just grab on to and go. Now if you’re using a milking machine, that may not be as much of a concern, but if you want to hand milk, you just need to be considerate of that.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s what we did. So when we jumped into sheep, we had a friend and Rachel and I have a mutual friend who had some Longwools for sale. And you guys have probably heard me talk about this a little bit since the other two podcast episodes. And then I was able to find our ram, Steve, who was named before he came to us, who is an East Friesian. Rachel actually helped me find him and made that connection. And so we were then quickly the proud owners of three Lincoln Longwools and one East Friesian. And so the thought was… Actually one of the Longwool ewes came to me with a fairly nice udder. Not super long teats, but better than I thought they were going to be. And she was just being weaned from her lamb when she came. And so I was able to milk her a little bit. And it was very easy. I mean, she was very easy to milk. And so it’s been fun, and we’ve been interested in seeing what the offspring will be like. The breeder of the East Friesian ram was telling us that basically whatever we breed him with will double that breed’s milk production just because of what he is. And so that’s really interesting too. So it’s good for you guys that are listening to know you don’t have to go out and buy the best of the best right away. The other nice thing about sheep that we’ve kind of established in some of the other podcasts are that they breed very, very early generally depending on the size, and they only have a five month gestation period versus the nine month. And they can have twins. They can multiply babies more than cows do. And so there’s a whole lot of pros to sheep in general to where you can quickly build up your flock of sheep, and especially if it’s dairy sheep. So you’re not waiting a year and a half to breed a cow and then waiting another nine months before you get offspring to get that milk. You’re actually going into it, you’re breeding, and you’re waiting a lot less time. And so it is much easier for the homesteader to consider sheep as a viable dairy option.
Amy Fewell Hey, guys. Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode. We’re going to take a quick break and bring you a word from one of our amazing sponsors. McMurray Hatchery officially started in 1917. Murray McMurray had always been interested in poultry as a young man and particularly enjoyed showing birds at the local and state fairs. Nowadays, the hatchery is still completely through mail order, but they offer way more than ever before. From meat chicks and layer hens to waterfowl, ducklings, goslings, turkeys, game birds, juvenile birds, they even have hatching eggs and a whole lot of chicken equipment. Make sure you check out our Homesteader of America sponsor McMurray Hatchery at McMurrayHatchery.com and get your orders in today. And don’t forget to stop by their booth at the 2023 HOA event.
Amy Fewell Now let’s kind of talk about breeding just a little bit because breeding for dairy sheep is going to be a little bit more intensive, in my opinion, than it is for cows because from my research… Obviously I haven’t experienced it myself yet. My research is that a cow will definitely milk longer in most cases than a sheep will, so could we talk about that just a little bit?
Rachel Hester Yes. So sheep have, depending on the breed, between a 3 to 10 month lactation cycle. So in Europe, where they have the really strong pure East Friesian genetics, they will get a solid ten months of milk from those ewes. So you kind of have to breed them back while they’re still in lactation. My Gulf Coast Native sheep have a three month window, and as soon as we remove the lambs, they start drying up. So we have to lamb share with those sheep. So again, you know, when you look at your breeds, you really want to ask some questions as to the lactation time. When do they pull lambs? When do they start weaning? That kind of thing. So that’s lactation length. Some people don’t like that because with the cow, I mean, you can milk her for at least a year, sometimes two, depending on how you manage her. Sheep will just naturally dry off after a certain amount of time. I didn’t mind that because that meant we got a break when we were managing things that way. And then what we did this year is we bred our dairy mutts in the fall for spring lambs and then we bred our Gulf Coast Natives in the spring, so we’ll have fall lambs. So we will have a year’s supply of sheep milk that way. So yeah, they’re definitely different than cows in that respect.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Now, do dairy sheep need anything nutritionally different than other sheep? Just regular sheep will need? Or have you found that they can survive basically the same way? You know, with dairy cows, obviously dairy cows and beef cows are two totally different sections of the cow family. But are you seeing that with sheep? That dairy sheep need a little bit more in regard to nutrition or is it all broadly the same across the board?
Rachel Hester No. I mean, now that I have a son, I’m a lot more sympathetic to dairy sheep’s nutritional needs because I have noticed I need more than I did before.
Amy Fewell Right.
Rachel Hester And so this kind of can get into a controversial topic, if you will. And I’m using air quotes for those listening because, you know, if you get into a group of dairy shepherds and talk about feed, it’s like, oh my goodness.
Amy Fewell Oh, yeah, Everyone has an opinion.
Rachel Hester Oh my goodness. Yes. And, you know, I think, too, there’s the whole grass-fed movement. Like everyone’s very concerned with grass-fed. And I was kind of struggling with this, but then I heard Beth Daughtery point out, you know, the grass-fed movement centered around cows because cows are designed to just eat grass. And so I have noticed… well, we have a Jersey cow and we also have sheep. They eat different things. So the sheep, when they go into a new paddock, they will actually go in… if there’s seed heads on the grass, then they’ll eat those first, and then they’ll go down from there. They also want more leafy things like the clovers or they’ll eat some multiform rose and that kind of stuff, whereas the cow will go straight for the grass. So you do want to make sure your sheep have plenty of grass or hay, but you also need to be aware that just in general, they do want some other things besides just grass. And then when they’re lactating, if your management is you’re leaving lambs on and you’re milk sharing—which my personal opinion is you should because you have healthier lambs and better genetics down the road—you know, they’re feeding those lambs and they’re feeding you and they’re trying to keep their own selves healthy. And so what we’ve found is if we’re not providing enough minerals and kelp and feed for our dairy ewes, they become incredibly susceptible to parasites and other health issues because they’re dumping all of those nutrients to keep themselves healthy into the milk. Cows are much more selfish, if you will, with their vitamins and minerals, and they’ll keep them from themselves. Sheep will dump it into the milk first. So we always make sure we’ve got really good quality minerals out for our girls, especially if they’re lactating, just because they’re constantly dumping that into the milk. And it’s not just you’re giving that to your sheep; you’re also getting the benefit of those minerals, too. So that’s a nice benefit.
Amy Fewell Right.
Rachel Hester And then we’ve also just noticed feeding them in the stanchion… We use a milking stanchion to milk our sheep and having a good mix is really imperative. Again, I don’t do corn or soy very well. Corn and soy also ferment very quickly. So when you’re feeding your sheep, you need to be aware that they have a rumen, which is essentially a fermentation vat for their digestive system. So you want a slower to ferment type supplement to feed them. Otherwise you’re going to have to deal with other health issues if they get into too much corn and soy, because those two things have very high sugar, ferment very quickly. So we feed alfalfa pellets less, lespedeza pellets, shredded beet pulp, some oats, and some barley. So they kind of have a different spectrum of nutrients in their feed mix. And we’ve noticed they really do need a couple cup fulls of that per day when they’re in the stanchion, depending on the size of the sheep. Some, they just need about a cup and they’re good. The Gulf Coast don’t need that much. But the big girls with these Friesian genetics, where they’ve just been selectively bred for so many hundreds of years to have grain, they really benefit to have some grain consistently while they’re lactating.
Amy Fewell Right. And I love how you kind of pulled out the things that you give them because a lot of times people will just be like, “Okay, I’m going to go to my local feed store and I’m just going to say, ‘Give me a bag of sheep grain.'” Right? But I love that you said you don’t just go to the store and buy them a bag of sheep grain. You’re getting them rolled oats, you’re getting them beet pulp, you’re giving them things like kelp and minerals. And so just really, for those of you who are… I know we have a lot of listeners that are like hardcore grass-fed, as you should be, but there are also options to not be fully grain-fed either. You can have compromises based on those genetics that you have or based on what your sheep needs. It’s like Rachel said, they’re in the field and they’re eating the seed tops first, which is technically a grain, if you think about it. If they were in a wheat field, they’d be eating those wheat tops first, or an oat field, they’d be eating those oat tops first. And so even just a little bit of those rolled oats kind of helps pack that that weight on them and put the energy out with milk, too. And so it’s nice to see… Like we always have… A lot of times we have hardcore people on here who are like, “No, no, no, no. No grain. No, no. None of that. But there are ways to compromise, too, based on the breed that you get and then transitioning more to the genetics that you want over the years as you get into more breeding and holding back and all of that. So that’s really cool.
Rachel Hester And if you want to go 100% grass-fed, you can do that, but you need to have… You have to have very high quality pastures. You need to have a lot of land because sheep are incredibly more susceptible to parasites than cows are. If you own sheep, you are going to become a parasitologist. That’s just what’s going to happen because they have a lot of different things. So if you want to do grass-fed, you can do that. They need to be moved twice a day, every single day onto fresh pasture, and it’s got to be very good quality pasture. And you kind of need to know what those sheep need because, again, they eat different than cows do. So if you have only eight-and-a-half acres like I do. You just can’t do grass-fed sheep milk if you want to provide your own milk supply.
Amy Fewell Right. Yeah. And so that’s why it’s good for you guys to look into the genetics of whatever sheep you’re getting. Like Rachael said earlier, do they convert grass well? Do they not? Just like cows, just on a smaller package level. And then also keep in mind what your property has to offer those sheep. Just like with a cow, what does your property have to offer? So we kind of had an aha moment because 50% of our property essentially is pasture. It was just old hayfield that was managed not well the last 20 years, but still nonetheless it was managed. And then we have partially wooded or silvopasture, which was really great for sheep. Like they thrived well on silvopasture. And so our sheep were under stress when they first came to us. I’m not sure if I’ve said this in one of the other podcasts, but I’ll share it here. They were pretty stressed out, even just a very short ride here. Like we don’t even live that far apart from the the breeder we got them from. And so we found, like what Rachel just said, because parasite counts are… You know, sheep are so susceptible to parasites. We started moving them more frequently, and we also gave them a diverse area of nutrition. So instead of just pasture, when we moved them to our back part of the property with silvopasture, their health immediately took a turn for the better and they just knew how to self-medicate. They knew how to do what they needed to do, and they were better within like 24 to 48 hours. It was pretty incredible to watch. And so the other thing about sheep, too, especially dairy sheep, is—which we’ve been finding—is that dairy sheep, especially when they’re hungry, they will eat and eat and eat. Right? So they will rip your grass up if you are on a small acreage especially, or if you leave them in one place for too long. And that’s because they have to. They are putting out a product for you and your homestead. And so those are just things to keep in mind if you’re bringing on dairy sheep on to your property because they will eat, and they have to eat, and they will eat at whatever cost it is to keep producing that nutrition in their milk. And so just as you’re a new homesteader or even an experienced one that wants to get into dairy sheep, those are things to consider. I have found that I have to manage my property way more with sheep than I do with a cow. They require a few more strands of polywire versus the cow who I can get away with one strand of polywire.
Rachel Hester Yeah, don’t do that with sheep.
Amy Fewell Yeah, no. There are a ton of pros to dairy sheep and there are some cons to dairy sheep, just like there’s pros to cows and there’s cons to cows. And so what I’m really enjoying is we’re putting all of that out there because we really—I think Rachel would agree—we really believe that dairy sheep are the next big thing for homesteaders because you can have more on your property. I think we’ve established you can have 4 to 5 sheep which equals one cow, essentially. And so if you’ve got five sheep on your homestead property, so you’re milking a couple of ewes right, then you’re getting milk, but it’s a sustainable option for milk. And so for small homesteads.—like Rachel has eight acres, we have almost six acres—it might be a more sustainable option for you. Which leads me in to Rachel is writing a book about this. So you guys have all of the information in your fingertips because let me tell you, y’all, there are like no books about sheep dairy except for this really expensive—I’m holding up for YouTube people—The Practical Sheep Dairying book by Olivia Mills, which is forever and an age old, and it costs like 150 bucks online. Like you can’t find it for less than that. And it’s just crazy because they don’t print it anymore. So Rachel was like, “Listen, there’s a need and I’m going to fill it.” So, Rachel, why don’t you tell us really quickly about your book?
Rachel Hester Yeah. So I actually have to give credit to the Homesteaders of America because we went and had a booth of sheep milk soap, and a couple people bought the soap, but most people wanted to talk to us about sheep dairy. And I just didn’t know that they were on the upswing as far as popularity went. And this one guy came in and was just asking question after question after question, so I’m trying to answer as best I can, just not having prepared. And he finally just like waves his arms and yells at me and he goes, “Where’s your book? Where’s your podcast? Where’s your pamphlet? Where’s your class?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “We need this, so you need to provide it.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” And he left and I looked at my husband. I’m like, “I guess I should write something.” And he’s like, “I guess you should.” And the rest is history. It’s because of Homesteaders of America this book is in existence.
Amy Fewell That’s awesome.
Rachel Hester Yeah, so I am writing a book, and Sawdust Publishing is putting it out. And so I’ve been working with Janet Garman, who is just an absolute joy and blessing and so helpful. So it’s going to be 13 chapters. We’re going to go over why own sheep, why have sheep milk specifically. So I’ll go over in a lot more detail all the details of the nutritional profile of the sheep milk. I talk about how to feed your sheep and how to kind of decide what you’re going to feed them based off of their nutrition needs. I go over breeds a lot because, again, I have both. I have dairy mutts and I have nondairy sheep. So I kind of go over the pros and cons of when do you want a dairy specific sheep, when do you want a nondairy specific sheep? I do even talk about milking hair sheep for those of you who are diehard Katahdin and Dorper fans. I also have interviews from other dairy shepherds in there, which I’m excited about. Yes, we do have some recipes in there. We’ve got other things about recipes kind of in the works, but I don’t know if I should talk about that just yet.
Amy Fewell Maybe not.
Rachel Hester But yeah, if you want like a you know, I’m a homesteader, I’m interested in sheep, what do I do? This is the book where I was trying to just say, “Okay, this isn’t geared towards a professional sheep dairy or a big, huge sheep operation.” This is more for the homesteader who’s like, “I want to do this sustainably, I want to do this affordably, I want to do this enjoyably.” Because that’s the other thing. I mean, sheep are the most joyful, fulfilling heartbreak you’re going to experience because they’re very fragile and they’re very loving and they’re very stubborn. And so I want to help and encourage people to find ways to emphasize the joy of shepherding, because the heartbreak just kind of volunteers to jump out and smack you.
Amy Fewell Yeah, well, I think you’ve reached it at the right time for homesteaders waiting to learn more. You guys, you can check the show notes for a link where you can preorder the book. The book is not out yet. Do you have a title for the book yet?
Rachel Hester The Guide to Homestead Dairy Sheep.
Amy Fewell Okay, so you can check that out below in the show notes and links are all there. And if you want to go through a transcript or anything of this to kind of pull out all these nuggets that Rachel’s given us, you can find that on our our blog at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. And all of this information that she’s been talking about will be in there. Is there anything else, Rachel, that you feel like people need to know about dairy sheep before we hop off here?
Rachel Hester Oh, there’s lots of things. You know, we have a dairy cow and we have dairy sheep. And I have owned dairy goats in the past. My friend, who’s a fellow dairy shepherdess, we joke that dairy goats are like dogs and dairy sheep are more like cats. They’re much more standoffish, they’re much more whatever. But once you become their shepherd, it’s really amazing. And as a Christian, you really start to understand the heart of our Lord so much more profoundly than you did before you owned sheep. And I think that was the most surprising thing for me is learning… Like, we would get through this really frustrating thing with a sheep, and at the end of it I would be like, “Oh, those darn sheep. And they… Oh, okay, Jesus, I’m so sorry because I do that.”
Amy Fewell It’s like, “Why do you do the stupid things you do?” Right? And then you’re like, “Oh.”
Rachel Hester Yeah. And the other thing would be on a much more materialistic level, dairy sheep are wool sheep, which scares a lot of people because they’re like, “I don’t know what to do with wool.” And I would just really encourage people wool is really a gift to homesteaders, especially. There’s so many uses for it. We’ve become so much healthier since wearing wool products in the winter and using it in our daily life. So don’t let the wool scare you. It’s a good problem to have.
Amy Fewell Yeah, yeah. So many things. If you guys want to know all about wool, check out the podcast episode, a couple podcasts back. Or maybe it was right before this. Janet Garman talks about wool and wool sheep and all kinds of fun things about that, and she has a book about that too. Awesome. Well, thank you for joining me, Rachel. This has been super fun, and I’m sure lots of homesteads are going to have dairy sheep on them soon.
Rachel Hester Yay. Thanks for having me, Amy.
Amy Fewell Yeah. All right, guys, thanks for joining us on this week’s Homesteaders of America podcast. Make sure you’re subscribed if you are not already. Check out the show notes in the link below. And until next time, happy homesteading.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.