By Debbie James

A dairy sheep farmer is increasing production as demand for ewe milk grows.

Huw Jones established a dairy sheep flock at Ty Hen Newydd, near Llanerchymedd, Anglesey, two years ago.

He has now added a further 50 Lacuane x East Friesians to the flock.

“There is a massive market for sheep milk in the UK and it is expanding,’’ says Huw.

To set up the business, he secured a £12,000 loan to buy sheep and a mobile milking parlour and is now milking 100 ewes.

The farmer’s son set up his own business because his family’s 100-acre sheep and beef farm isn’t big enough to provide a livelihood for him and his parents.

Huw had graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in agriculture and was working full-time on a local dairy farm and running his own flock of 200 breeding ewes.

His ambition was to set up a business that didn’t have big start-up costs and one that would tap into a relatively new market.

“I could see there was a gap in the market for sheep milk production as people’s eating patterns are changing and consumers are ready to try new things,’’ says Huw.

“Dairy sheep seemed a good idea as it requires relatively low investment, it generates significant gross margin and the market for sheep’s milk produce is growing.’’

To realise his ambition, he needed to secure a milk contract.

Before he invested capital in the venture he approached a local cheesemaker, Carrie Rimes, who makes cheese from sheep milk.

“She had been driving to Preston to buy milk and she was delighted to have the opportunity to buy milk locally,’’ says Mr Jones.

“Her advice and help, as someone who knows the market inside out, has been invaluable.’’

After securing a loan and funding from a Wales YFC Livery Guild Award, Huw bought 50 Lacuane x East Friesian ewe lambs.

To produce a hardier ewe, more suited to the climate in north Wales, he sired them to a Lleyn ram, sponging the ewe lambs in November.

This cross will shorten the lactation – four to five months instead of six to seven – but the butterfat content in the milk will be higher.

The ewes, which have large udders and are slightly goat-like in appearance, were housed in January, lambing at the end of March in two, three-week batches.

The lambs were reared on their mothers for three days before the ewes came into the parlour to be milked.

Huw had bought a second-hand parlour designed for goats and adapted it to suit sheep.

He opted for a mobile unit to give him flexibility as he has taken on more rental land.

“As I don’t have a farm of my own and as I am currently renting I need to have the flexibility to move the milking site.’’

A cell grazing system provides the sheep with fresh grass in 0.14ha paddocks every 24 hours.

“They like to have fresh grass every day, they are pretty picky grazers and like to be pampered,’’ says Mr Jones.

Persuading customers in Wales to try sheep milk products is going to be a challenge, he believes, but adds: “Once they try I am adamant they will be hooked.’’

Mr Jones would like to see UK supermarkets do more to educate consumers about the sheep’s milk products they sell, mainly in the form of yoghurt and cheese.

“There is sheep’s milk in our supermarkets but how much do the retailers educate and urge consumers to buy unusual produce?’’