Karras Farm News

Karras Farm has been a leader in dairy sheep breeding and genetics in the United States. We have been very blessed to have some national attention showcasing our variety of sheep. Starting in 2013, Karras Farm has had the honor and privileged to be featured in Sheep Magazine which is a national publication geared toward information and advancement of the sheep industry in America.

Please visit for additional information on sheep farming or to subscribe to their bi-monthly print publication. Thank you for taking time to visit our website and please contact us with any dairy sheep questions.

Karras Farm Inc. Announces that the First Baby Awassi Sheep to Be Born in the United States has Arrived

Karras Farm Inc. imported Awassi sheep embryos from Australia and has successfully produced the first full blood Awassi sheep born in the United States.

Our Awassi USA dairy sheep program will be a welcome enhancement to the dairy sheep industry in the United States Andy Karras – Owner

(PRWEB) January 08, 2013

The Awassi Fat Tail dairy sheep is very hardy in nature, fully adapted to arid environments and considered to be one of the highest milk producing breeds in the Middle East. These sheep also have beautiful wool coats and are known for being resistant to many diseases and parasites that can affect other breeds. Karras Farm is now in year two of breeding the Awassi Fat Tail sheep in the United States with plans of rapidly expanding their Awassi sheep operation. Now that they have been able to import full blooded Awassi sheep, they are excited about the outlook for the future of this operation.

Karras Farm is a leader in the genetic breeding of dairy sheep and has become well known for producing some of the highest quality East Friesian sheep in the United States. This spring, Karras Farm will have the very first F1 Assaf sheep cross in the US. The Assaf sheep is a cross of Awassi sheep and East Friesian sheep with the F1 being a 50/50 first cross. Click here to read the full press release

Starting Small

Alot of our breeding stock customers are folks who got their sheep just to supply their family with rich, sweet milk (of a caliber and quality that can’t be found in a store), not as a money-making venture.

Yet it’s likely some of these people will eventually expand and start a dairy business. I think it’s inevitable, in fact, as some home growers will get quite good at it: They’ll save enough money by growing their own dairy goods that they’ll realize they can do this on a bigger scale. They’ll look at how much they save and realize that by expanding their scale of operation to say 100 ewes, what they’re now saving would, in a bigger operation become their “profit margin.” When that level starts to pay off, some of them may expand to thousands of ewes.

In the major sheep dairying nations, many commercial startups are begun by people who got background experience in sheep dairying without a profit motive.

Their risk was less because they first got good at it on a “home use” basis, without the urgency to pay off bank loans and bill collectors.

One benefit of starting with say, two bred ewe lambs: It’s a lot less money than the truckload of dairy ewes needed for even a fairly small commercial operation. Keep at least two sheep though: A lonely dairy sheep all by itself will be unhappy and won’t thrive or give much milk.

Another way to start—more common in America than abroad—is to get non-dairy ewes and breed them to rams that have at least 50 percent dairy genetics. For example, a ram that carries 50 percent dairy breeding (likely from a crossbred dairy operation) may be bred to a non-dairy breed or cross. His onefourth dairy blood daughters will yield about double the 100 to 200 pounds (12 to 25 gallons) their non-dairy mothers yielded. Dairy crosses also yield more lambs—dairy genes add fertility.

Daughters of purebred dairy rams crossed on non-dairy ewes yield even more milk and lambs. So do ewes born to quarterblood dairy ewes when bred to a half-bred dairy ram (this makes a “three-eighths blood” dairy animal).

I’m not a fan of so-called dairy crosses, for a combination of thorny reasons:

First, labor stays the same. Labor cost is similar per ewe whether they yield 100 lbs. of milk per lactation (non-dairy), or 1,100 lbs. (dairy). By the third year of upgrading, first and second cross ewes are producing some milk. But purebred foundation stock—plus their first and second lamb crops—all out-yield the upgraded crosses, so those “pricy purebreds” end up far cheaper once the labor gets paid for, due to three full years’ heavy milk and lamb yields.

Second, crossbred lambs won’t bring purebred prices. On a milk-yield basis, after they get to three-eighths dairy blood, breeders find it makes more sense to cross such ewes to meat breed rams, so blocky lambs make up for lower milk profits, ending any hope of continuing milk bloodline advances. So crisscrossing milk and meat bloodlines can’t be relied on for dairy progress.

Starting with a couple of pregnant dairy ewe lambs, we may end up getting a ram or two at lambing time. If so, then the flock is on its way; output won’t be harmed by such consanguinity—in fact, if a genetic fault lies hidden in the ewe or ram, this can bring it to the surface for culling. If purebred lambs turn out to be females, the owner then has a total of four or more ewes to breed next season, a number that justifies buying a purebred ram.

If a home-flock owner desires to “go into the business,” those initial low-stress years of hands-on nurture and selection for dairy traits may build up a tidy flock of good ewes that pay their way.

Keeping purebred dairy ewes doesn’t stop the grower from using meat-breed rams on ewes whose lambs prove unsuitable for dairy purposes. Her milk output will make them grow all the faster.

Initially, try to locate a breeder who understands dairy conformation and breeding selection, who’s willing to pass along “howto” info. Commercial dairy operators are busy people, so be nice when you interrupt; don’t unnecessarily monopolize their time.

Some growers keep dairy sheep in barns and/or dirt lots all year, entailing lots of clean-up and manure handling, but they don’t have money tied up in land, fences or predator losses. Others run ewes on pasture much of the year, so sheep do the harvesting work for free; they have more land preparation, parasites and predators to contend with.

In America’s Southland, such as in North and South Carolina where Karras Farm is located, it’s muggy and hot: Summer worm loads can be catastrophic. Yet folks succeed with dairy sheep here, so it ought to be possible with good care anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

Dairy ewes need four to five pounds of high class hay daily (soft—not stemmy—alfalfa, clover, peanut, beggar weed, or other legumes, 2nd cutting if possible) allotting 25 percent extra when they’re in milk. That’s about 1,600 lbs. a year per ewe if there’s no pasture. The richer the pasture, the less hay the flock needs. If tested to proper fertility and pH, a lot of Eastern and West Coast grasslands can sustain five ewes to an acre all through the growing season, if moisture holds up and rotations are met.

In addition to hay, ewes need up to three gallons of water apiece daily when in full milk, located where ewes can each get their share.

Most dairy ewes continue milking for seven or eight months of the year. Half-bred dairy ewes may milk for six months (more or less). Half-bred milking ewes need less food a year if they give less milk, but they still need plenty during milking season. They keep up this output for six to eight years; some go longer, a few fizzle out sooner. Next time: A bit on milking ewes.

Andy Karras keeps several hundred head of dairy ewes of East Friesian, Awassi and Assaf breeding at Karras Farms, 13572 Cabarrus Station Road, Midland, NC 28107. E-mail: [email protected]; website:; Phone: 704-778-2032. “Sheep Dairying with Andy Karras” is written by Nathan Griffith, based on interviews, data and/or original material provided by Andy Karras.

Hand Milking

Hand milking helps keep a family flock healthy. If during hand milking our hands feel any changes in a ewe’s udder— hardness, fever—we can go to work on it fast before mastitis (hard bag) or other ills get too far out of hand to be successfully treated.

Being right up next to your own ewes while milking lets you listen carefully to the sheep’s breathing. This is important with dairy ewes (particularly East Friesian sheep), which are susceptible to respiratory problems, especially if their shelter becomes moldy or dusty, or has persistent draftiness or (above all!) high humidity.

Milking by hand may take a bit longer than by machine if there are hundreds of ewes, but if there are less than two dozen in the flock, owners are often surprised to find hand milking quicker. With mechanized milking, operators wash udders and attach milking machines but there’s not a lot of skin-to-skin contact. Sheep may be unhealthily hot or cold to the touch or have hard spots, etc. Hand milkers notice more readily. Hand milking, if done cleanly and into food-grade vessels, can be just as safe, easier to clean and lots cheaper than pumps, lines and bucket milkers. When we hand milk, we milk our ewes from behind, but some operators do fine milking from the side, the way cows and goats are commonly milked.

Dairy ewes sometimes appear whose udders make it hard to harvest the milk. Those are the ones that don’t fight udder infections very well, because they’re not being fully milked out. Resistance to milk flow may be due to their having a very small orifice in the teat, or to the sphincter mechanism not opening enough, or it may be due to narrow, constricted passageways where milk flows into teats from the udder. Hand milking detects the “easy-milkers,” which just happen to be characteristically less prone to health and husbandry problems.

You can practice hand milking on any sheep of course; it doesn’t have to be a dairy breed. If you already have sheep and are considering moving to a dairy flock, it’s okay to learn about it on the sheep you already have.

The traditional way to hand milk a ewe is:

• Give the ewe her feed concentrate portion and attach her neck rope or stanchion (if you have or can make one).

• Wipe her udder and adjacent belly and leg area with a warm, moist rag to loosen and rid particles of dirt, dust, or vegetation that could get knocked or blown into the milk. Wipe off excess water with a dry towel or cloth.

Slowly at first, clamp one of the ewe’s teats with your thumb against the first knuckle of your index finger. Focus your thumb grip up and into the lower udder area itself, above where teat meets udder (more about this later).

Press the remaining fingertips, one after the other, against the teat, to squeeze out the milk trapped in it by the clasped thumb. Repeat until the milk is emptied. Do both sides of the udder at once, using both hands. Squirt the first stream or two into a plastic tin or tub to give to the cat—it may have more germs you don’t want mixed into your milk. The rest can now be milked into a clean vessel. If you have several ewes to milk, transfer the milk periodically into a separate covered canister, in case a ewe kicks into the milking bucket or in some other way it gets fouled. Pay attention: If the ewe begins to assume a stance to urinate, get the bucket out of range.

Removing the last bit of milk is called “stripping,” which includes nudging the udder with the other hand, imitating the way eager lambs butt into the udder while nursing, to free up the last of the milk held in the udder’s tiny reservoirs and ducts.

When finished, many people recommend dipping each teat into disinfectant solution. The reason we clamp our hand well up into the ewe’s udder is to speed removal of the milk: There’s not much time to do a complete job before a ewe quits “letting down” the milk—a complex process we may discuss more fully some time in the future. Inside the ewe’s udder there is a reservoir of milk known as the “gland cistern,” that drains into the teat, where a smaller milk reservoir is located, called the “teat cistern.” These hollow reservoirs are surrounded by lots of ducts, connective tissue and milk-producing glands. The latter are called “alveoli.”

The teat cistern is small so of we clamp only the teat and no part of the udder, there’s a lot less milk released at each squirt. The milk sitting in the big gland cistern comes out easily too. So it’s best to get it out fast. Then the ewe’s pressure on the milk still in the alveoli will let us get the rest of the milk as it replenishes what we take from the gland cistern. This last alveolar milk is believed to contain the richest part of in each milking’s yield. In some ewes it could add up to 40 percent of the total yield. If you don’t yet have dairy sheep, it’s good to practice milking your calmer ewes of your current breeds. (Milk mature ewes that lost their lamb, or mature ewes that are nursing singles. Don’t take so much that you stint the lamb). That way, when

you’re ready to invest in dairy stock, the ewe will be the only one that has to learn the new routine.

Andy Karras keeps several hundred head of dairy ewes of East Friesian, Awassi and Assaf breeding at Karras Farms, 13572 Cabarrus Station Road, Midland, NC 28107; E-mail: [email protected]; website: KarrasFarm. com; Phone: 704-778-2032. “Sheep Dairying with Andy Karras” is written by Nathan Griffith, based on interviews, data and/or original material provided by Andy Karras. Illustrations in this article ©2001 by Nathan Griffith.

Thinking About Sheep Dairying?

People have given me several reasons why they want to start with dairy sheep.

First are folks in the cattle dairy business, who know it well, but just aren’t satisfied with its returns on investment (ROI). Cow’s milk doesn’t sell as high as ewe’s milk mostly due to simple supply and demand: Lots of cow’s milk equals low price, scarce ewe’s milk equals high price. Cattle dairies are adding sheep to their place or even switching to sheep.

Small home dairies are getting into sheep at a faster rate. There are many reasons for this. Here are a few we’ve heard from people getting starting stock from Karras Farm here in North Carolina:

•A sheep dairy on a small farm can be more self-contained than a cow-dairy of the same output. Five big-yielding dairy ewes take about the same land as one small but high-yielding Jersey cow, but the five ewes justify owning a dairy ram; one cow doesn’t, so getting her bred on schedule can be a problem.

•Dairy-breed ewes and their lambs are much safer and easier to handle than a cow (kind hearted as she may be).

•Ewes eat a bigger variety of green forages—weeds and all—than cows.

•Dairy sheep produce meat lambs as tasty and profitable as other breeds.

•Dairy sheep breeds tend to be big; their lambs are too.

•Dairies using East Friesian, Awassi and Assaf breeds of sheep can harvest and sell wool. The Lacaune dairy breed, not so much.

•Ewe’s milk is richer than even rich Jersey cow milk, making it tops for cheeses and for specialty processing into many gourmet items. These items sell for much higher prices than common dairy products.

•The U.S. uses close to 100 times more sheep milk products than it produces, so the demand for both sheep milk products and good dairy breeding stock for expansion is likely to stay high pretty far into the foreseeable future.

•Like cow’s milk, ewe’s milk doesn’t acquire that “bucky” flavor like goats milk after it’s a few days old.

•People who are allergic to cows milk—or whose children are— seem to value ewe’s milk for its richness and flavor stability. The latter point brings up the next important trait.

•Ewe’s milk has the unusual and hugely valuable trait of being OK to freeze in a plastic bag for relatively long periods and not deteriorate its goodness. It’s a great blessing not to always have to rush to beat the arrival of a bulk truck carrying your product to a creamery. And when a load of milk is ready to go, you don’t necessarily have to transport it all at once. A sheep dairy has the option to wait for a better price, or to hold some back for buyers known pay extra for it.

•Sheep can graze land too steep or rough to be safe for cattle. This lets people get started without risking so much money: Renting or buying rough land just costs less.

•Dairy ewes should first “freshen” (start milking) at 13 months old. We’ll discuss this more in a future article, but for now it’s enough to point out that conventional cow dairies don’t usually start milking a cow until she’s 24 to 28 months old.

•Dairy breed ewes are prolific, usually yielding a twin lamb crop or more a year. Heavy milking cows average one calf every 13 to 14 months.

•Sheep are less fly-prone than cattle, due to dry pelleted droppings.

•Sheep-handling equipment is smaller, cheaper and fits into smaller, cheaper buildings than cattle equipment. Some pricy dairy cattle tools like hoists, head gates, big trailers pulled by big trucks, nitrogen tanks and insemination equipment aren’t usually needed for sheep dairying.

There are a lot of other reasons for dairying with sheep, but these are the reasons heard most often.

Not For Everyone

It’s not right to make out dairy sheep to be all roses and sunshine; they’re not:

•Stray or feral dogs may hurt a cow, but far more often attack sheep. It’s easier for them to kill or ruin sheep.

•Sheep are way more prone to attack from internal parasites.

•Sheep need more of a fence than cattle (but blessedly less than goats). A true “rogue” cow can’t be held by fences that would’ve been ample for sheep.

•Sheep don’t act so obviously stressed when they’re ill or hurt like cattle do. An inattentive shepherd’s sheep can get too far gone to be saved, giving rise to the ignorant saying. “A sick sheep is a dead sheep.”

•Like goats (but unlike cows) sheep don’t do well when kept singly. They do best with other sheep.

•Dairy ewes’ milk-yielding season is seven months; cows, ten months.

•A good dairy ewe yields 10 pounds or more milk daily at full output. Our top milkers go well beyond. A good cow would yield 80 pounds or more at full output, but cow milk has half the solids and butterfat of sheep, and sells for less than half the price. (Non-dairy breed ewes yield rich milk for three to five months but the total output will only be 20 to 25 percent of a purebred dairy ewe.)

Next time, we’ll be looking at the general requirements for a small, beginner-size sheep dairy start-up, mainly to supply milk products for a family or a local community at a reasonable return on labor and investment.

Andy Karras keeps several hundred head of dairy ewes of East Friesian, Awassi and Assaf breeding at Karras Farms, 13572 Cabarrus Station Road, Midland, NC 28107; e-mail: [email protected]; website:; phone: 704-778-2032. “Sheep Dairying with Andy Karras” is written by Nathan Griffith, based on interviews, data and/or original material provided by Andy Karras.