Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in dairy production, both when it comes to cows and goats. One less common, but still important piece to Wisconsin’s dairy industry is dairy sheep. A small but mighty industry, sheep milk products are gaining popularity with consumers and the small industry has a tough time even keeping up with growing demand.
Karen Nielsen, organization director for the Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin shares some of the unique qualities of sheep milk and details about the industry. Even though the industry is small, producers of dairy sheep are wide spread across the state of Wisconsin. Most of these sheep dairies ship their milk to be processed into cheese at multiple processors around the state.
There is somewhat of a difference in composition when comparing sheep and cows milk. Most notably, sheep milk is a bit more concentrated and higher in nutrient density, therefore giving it an advantage when it comes to processing. It takes less amount of milk to make the same amount of product. Cow’s milk contains more water, while sheep’s milk consists of about double the amount of fat and protein.
Hygiene products made with sheep’s milk are also becoming increasingly popular, especially for people with sensitive skin. Tammy and Brian Michielson, owners of Maple Hill Farm of Ladysmith, Wisconsin have expanded their business into creating a wide variety of these products. Tammy sells homemade soaps, lotions, bath products and many other things, made exclusively from their milking sheep flock. She mentions that the higher fat content in the milk helps to make the products more moisturizing and very popular with her customers. They milk about 75-100 sheep, with most of their milk going to cheese production. Michielson has continued to expand the business and also now has a greater online presence selling her products.