How to Milk a Sheep 101 – 12 Steps to Sheep Milking Success!

When I turned to Professor Google for tips on “how to milk a sheep” during my novice days, the results were pretty thin. So here’s what I can tell you:

  1. The sheep enjoying their grain at milking time.

    It’s easiest if you have a head gate or even a rope to keep the sheep in one place. The less they can move about, the better. And of course a bit of delicious grain to keep the sheep happy and distracted. However feeding will encourage… well, see #3.

  2. A deep milking pot is best to catch the milk. The sheep may wiggle around and pick up its back feet as you work. A shallow dish is just begging to be stepped in or kicked over.

  3. A sheep will eventually poop in your milk pot.  You will learn to recognize when this is about to happen and be able to whisk the pot away. In the beginning, however, when you are intensely focused and milk is pretty hard-won, it can be a bit devastating. For this reason, it’s nice to have another pot or jar with filter (cheesecloth) handy where you can frequently empty your milking pot.

  4. Udder cleaning… well, it’s up to you. The milking I did was for cheese, and it got filtered over and over – first through cheese cloth, then twice through a tiny mesh filter, then again after heating through a wire kitchen strainer. We didn’t clean all 60 udders twice a day. To each their own!

  5. In the back on the left you can see the master at work. In the foreground is me trying the from-the-side approach. I switched to straddling the sheep the following day.

    You can sit behind the sheep on a stool. Or you can stand, face the opposite direction of the sheep, and bend over to reach the udder. For me, a 5’7” (170cm) person, the position that combined most milk with best ergonomics was the latter – straddling the sheep.  This method has the added benefit of being able to milk the sheep anywhere – not just at your milking station.

  1. Pull the udder back between the sheep’s legs.  You have to develop a feel for where on earth the milk is. It’s important to manipulate more than just the teat. Grasp the udder above the teats and let the teats stick out the bottom of your grip.
  1. Upward pressure is important. It’s my personal observation that this is how lambs drink. Orphaned lambs will unintentionally bash you in the chin with their heads if you hold them while bottle feeding as they search for the nipple. A lamb with its mother practically brutalizes the udder with its skull in the search for milk.

  2. Hand positioning in the from-above, straddle-style…

    With your hands on the udder (you will slowly develop a feel for where to grasp via trial and error), teats sticking out the bottom of your grip, and pressure up into the sheep’s body, tighten one of your fists from top to bottom to force the milk down into and out the bottom of the teat. This can feel like trying to get toothpaste out of a half empty tube one-handed.

  3. Now repeat on the opposite side. Repeat until udder is mostly empty (if you’re good), until you’re exhausted/frustrated (if you’re new), or until the ewe’s milk disappears (I’m told this happens if they get too stressed about the milking).

  1. If all you get is a dribble or a pinhole stream, try using both hands on one teat, switching back and forth every few squeezes. Once you’ve achieved a more squirt-gun-like stream, you’ll know what you’re eventually aiming to achieve one handed.

  1. Every udder is different, so some are far more difficult than others. If this is your very first time, try several sheep before you even think about getting discouraged. It took me ten minutes to milk my first sheep, and I probably didn’t get even half the milk out (a half-liter/2c. per milking session [2 daily] was the farm average). Five days into my milking tenure, I’d cut my time (and frustration!) in half – to five minutes. The farm hot-shot with decades of milking under his belt can polish off an udder in about twenty seconds!

  2. After milk comes… cheese!

    You don’t have to get every last drop of milk out of an udder. My observations of a hand-milking expert tell me that it’s not worth your time to get more than the first “easy” two cups (1/2 liter).  [Note: a few sheep gave a whole liter per milking!]. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to leave some behind, as long as you’ve relieved the pressure!  True, you may be able to eek out a bit more, but it will take twice as long as the large volume that comes easily.

That’s it! Hope this helps, and happy milking!

For sheep chessemaking recipes, check out: How to Make Cheese with Sheep’s Milk.

If this information brings you joy, profit, or education, please consider paying it forward by donating to abused kids at CASA of Humboldt or to hungry families via Heifer International.