Sheep Breed Facts British Milk Sheep

The British Milk Sheep (BMS) is a composite breed, medium to large in size. They are said to be a ‘dairy breed’ as they produce a sustained milk yield over and above that needed to rear their lambs. As triplets are ‘normal’ for this breed, a milk yield over and above what is needed for their young is quite exceptional.

There is conflicting information on the composition of the breed but East Friesian, West Friesian, Blue-faced Leister, Polled Dorset and Lleyn breeds are all mentioned. The problem seems to be with the percentages each breed contributed to the British Milk Sheep. Sources do agree that Laurent Alderson developed the breed in the Wiltshire and Northumberland area.

The breed was released in 1980. It is Britain’s most prolific breed with mature ewes averaging 3.07 lambs. Even as yearlings the average is 2.21 lambs per ewe. An especially broad pelvic area aids easy lambing. The lambs are generally of good weight from eight to ten pounds and will grow to over 100lbs, producing succulent, lean meat with little or no fat.

A 300 day lactation may produce a milk yield of 650 900 litres. Milk solids are high and protein content rises throughout the lactation period, as does the fat content. Such a milk composition sees triplets gaining 0.33kg per day in weight. The high fat content (starting around 5.5% at the beginning of the lactation period and rising to around 9%) makes the milk excellent for cheese-making. The output of cheese from these ewes is nearly twice that of cows’ milk.

British Milk Sheep produce a heavy, lean carcass. They are medium to large in size. Ewes weigh around 85kg and rams around 110 kg. The face and legs are white and clean (without wool). They are a polled breed. The fleece has some lustre and a staple length of 12 to 18 cm. Ewe fleeces weigh in the range of 4kg with ram fleeces over 6.5kg. The British Wool Marketing Board rates the wool as ‘excellent’ and ‘recommended’.

The BMS raises levels of production for the producer by bearing and raising larger numbers of lambs than is usual for most breeds. High fertility and high milk yield in both purebreds and crossbreds enables high levels of production without the need to run large numbers of ewes. This means less capital outlay on ewes and less costs associated with running the ewes. The ewes also have a prolonged breeding season resulting in an extra lambing over time. They are docile and friendly to handle.

The British Milk Sheep is found in the United Kingdom and Canada.