The bases of sheep breeding


Sheep's milk is the basis for nutrition of lambs, but it is also high quality raw material. Due to its special composition, sheep milk is mainly used for cheese making.


Within a period of approximately 5 to 7 days after the birth, ewes produce colostrum – a dense, viscous and yellow liquid of markedly salty taste, containing high levels of some vitamins, enzymes and immunoglobulin’s (Ig). This colostrum period (and above all its first four days) is characterised by a relatively high dynamics of changes in levels of individual components because levels of dry matter, fat, proteins, and immunoglobulin’s are quickly decreasing while the content of lactose increases.


Sheep's milk is ranked among so-called casein milks because casein constitutes about 75 to 80% of the proteins in this milk.

The color of sheep milk: whiter compared to cow's milk because higher carotene content in cow's milk.

Taste of sheep milk: slightly sweet compared to cow's milk, it is also so called „creamier“ and „richer“.

Smell of sheep milk: is characteristic for sheep milk, due to the high fat content this milk  is very susceptible to release of fatty acids as a result of lipase activity.

Lactation lenght: 150 – 300 days depending on breed, nutrition etc.

The lactation curve: generally has two peaks character when the first peak is achieved in 2 to 3 weeks of lactation and the second peak occurs after weaning of lambs.

Due to is recommended in the breeding of dairy sheep to apply early weaning of lambs which  ultimately is a prerequisite for higher market milk production.

Cheese yield: generally ranges from 2.5 to 5 kg of milk per 1 kg of sheep cheese depending above all on contents of protein and fat.



In sheep, milk production depends on a number of factors (breed, nutrition, health, litter size, duration and stage of lactation, method of milking etc.). However the principal factors are nutrition and health when in general - the better the nutrition and the health the higher milk yield and the better milk quality.

In the Czech Republic, sheep milk is produced by ewes of the following breeds: Tsigai (T), Improved Valachian (IV), East Friesian (EF), Sumavska (S) and Lacaune (Lc). In T, IV and S breeds, the average milk yield per lactation is usually 100 to 150 litres, in Lc varied between 200 and 300 litres and in EF varied between 250 and 400 litres. 

Milk production increases in dependence on litter size; ewes with twins produce in average more milk (by 15 to 35%) than those with single.

As far as the parity, the maximum production of milk per lactation is reached between the 3rd to 5th lactation.

From a lot of studies also result that if the lactation begins in autumn months the overall milk yield per lactation is usually higher by 30 % than that of ewes lambing within the period from January to April. However, the main reason of this difference consists in different level of nutrition (during winter the feeding ration is stable and rich, on the other hand during the summer the quantity and quality of the pasture can be very affected by climate change). 



Contents of the basic components of sheep's milk, depending on the stage of lactation varied in the following ranges: total solids 15 - 23%, protein: 4 - 8%, fat 5 - 9%, lactose 4 - 5.5%, ash 0.6-1,2%. All these contents, with the exception of lactose, are significantly higher than in other types of milk.

Sheep's milk is rich in protein, which is also reflected in the fact that this milk has a significantly higher content of essential amino acids (EAA), compared to other types of milk.

Sheep milk is also rich in minerals and vitamins (tables 13).  

In this milk are relatively high contents of Ca, P, Mg, Fe, Zn and I, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C and D

Table 13: Approximate contents of basic components of individual type of milk and caloric value


Sheep milk

Goat milk

Cow milk

Human milk

Total solids (%)

19,9 12 13 12,9

Fat (%)

7,9 3,4 4 4,0

Protein (%)

6,2 3,1 3,3 1,2

Casein (%)

4,2 2,4 2,6 0,4

Lactose (%)

4,9 4,5 4,7 6,9

Ash (%)

0,9 0,8 0,8 0,3

Cal. value (kcal / 100 ml)

105 70 69 68


Table 14: Contents of minerals in 100 g of milk


Sheep milk Goat milk Cow milk Human milk

Calcium (mg)

193 134 122 33

Phosphorus (mg)

158 121 119 43

Magnesium (mg)

18 16 12 4

Pottasium (mg)

136 181 152 55

Sodium (mg)

44 41 58 15

Chlorine (mg)

160 150 100 60

Sulfur (mg)

29 28 32 14

Iron (mg)

0,08 0,07 0,08 0,20

Cuprum (mg)

0,04 0,05 0,06 0,06

Manganese (mg)

0,007 0,032 0,021 0,073

Zinc (mg)

0,57 0,56 0,53 0,38

Iodine (mg)

0,020 0,022 0,021 0,007

Selenium (µg)

1,00 1,33 0,96 1,52


Table 15:Contents of Vitamins in 100 g of milk 


Sheep milk

Goat milk

Cow milk

Human milk

Vitamin A (IU)

146 185 126 190

Thiamin (B1, mg)

0,082 0,068 0,045 0,017

Riboflavin(B2, mg)

0,375 0,21 0,16 0,02

Niacin (B3, mg)

0,416 0,27 0,08 0,17

Pantotenic acid (B5, mg)

0,408 0,31 0,32 0,20

Vitamin B(mg)

0,08 0,046 0,042 0,011

Folic acid (B9, μg)

5,0 1,0 5,0 5,5

Biotin (vitamin H, μg)

0,93 1,5 2,0 0,4

Vitamin B12 (μg)

0,712 0,065 0,357 0,03

Vitamin C (mg)

4,16 1,29 0,94 5,00

Vitamin D (μg)

0,18 0,06 0,08 0,06

Vitamin E (mg)

0,11 0,04 0,11 0,23



 In general, in larger farms of dairy sheep is applied machine milking while hand milking is applied in smallholders.


Hand milking

- Hand milking is carried out to special containers or milking cans which must be provided with a filter.

- Milking may be carried out from behind or from the side, however in practise the most common way is from behind

- Hand milking is best done by the „full hand“ method, however very often is also used stripping by thumb and forefinger because ewe teat sizes are small.


Machine milking

- On small farms  - into the milking cans

- On big farms – different pipeline milking system in the parlor.


Most important type of milking parlors used in the Czech Republic: parallel (side by side) and rotary (carousel).

Positives of machine milking are: high productivity and better hygiene of the milk.





The document was created: 29. 01. 2023 10:28:06