June 15, 2007
June 15, 2007 - Though California has stolen the lead in cow milk production from Wisconsin, Wisconsin outranks California and -- apparently -- all other states in sheep milk.
National statistics on sheep milk production so far are not available, but University of Wisconsin experts on the subject say the state ranks No. 1. Although some northeastern states also are building dairy sheep herds, a leader of the New York industry agrees that Wisconsin is in the lead.
Other areas in North America where sheep milk is produced include Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec and Ontario.
"We know how many producers there are in other states, and when we say Wisconsin leads, I don't think anybody argues that fact," said Dave Thomas, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of animal science who oversees the university's dairy sheep program at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station.
Much of the credit for development of the business in Wisconsin goes to the Spooner research station, which started milking sheep in 1995, then conducted research and helped start a marketing cooperative. Now the state has more than 2,000 sheep in licensed milking herds and produces roughly a million pounds of sheep milk per year.
Staff at the station milk about 300 ewes twice a day, starting in January and going until late September, said Yves Berger, superintendent of the Spooner station.
"We are the only institution working on dairy sheep in North America," he said.
The Spooner station also helped start and is a member of the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative, which markets the 1 million pounds of sheep milk per year, a figure that has been increasing by 10 to 15 percent each year.
Sheep milk commands a much higher price than cow milk. Producers get $56 to $59 per hundred pounds, after co-op expenses are deducted. That compares with cow milk prices that generally vary from $11 to $16 per hundredweight.
"Sheep milk typically has 6.5 percent fat compared with 3.5 percent in cow milk; protein is typically about 5 percent for sheep and 3.6 percent for cows," Berger added. "There is more unsaturated fat, so it is easier to digest." Reprinted in part from The Capital Times, Wisconsin