earce McKinney started raising Suffolk sheep in 1954 as a 4-H project. The family farm in western Indiana was established in 1832. It’s one of a few 175-year-old farms in that state still occupied by the same family — now six generations. McKinney’s son Noel is involved in all the computer work with the seedstock registrations, and other details and plans to eventually take over the operation.
“Ours is a seedstock operation and we had a big flock of Suffolks,” says McKinney. “We brought in some Montadales in 1989, kind of on a dare. My wife liked the white faces because the black-faced sheep were so large they were hard to handle. My wife was out there working with me all the time and it was a little easier to work with the white face sheep.”
In 1996 he acquired five St. Croix hair sheep. “This was accidental,” he says. “We’d made an export order, but the sheep had grown so much between the time we bought them and the time we shipped the sheep, they couldn’t get them on the airplane. So the buyer and myself got stuck with five ewes apiece, and it was one of the best things that ever happened. Right now we’re running about 40 Montadale ewes (seedstock and show animals) and 70 St. Croix ewes. The older I got, the less work I find it takes to run the St. Croix.” He likes the St. Croix because they can be bred at different intervals and have lambs for the kill market at different times of the year.
A few years ago, McKinney tried the Udderly EZ mare milker on his ewes at lambing, to obtain colostrum for newborn lambs. He saw one used on a mare and thought it would work on a ewe.
“I had a lot of big, older Suffolk ewes that were having big lambs, and it seems like the bigger the lamb, the less it wants to get up and live. I had some ewes with low udders and big teats and I thought this milker might work on them. It worked perfect, and I would just tube the lambs to get the milk into them and get them going.
“Now we also use it to collect extra milk,” he adds. “We keep a milk reservoir in the cool part of the barn, for any lambs that need
it.” He no longer buys dry milk replacer for bottle lambs.
McKinney says while some say the EZ Milker is expensive, if anyone is feeding three or four bags of milk replacer per year, which easily covers the cost of the device. “If you can save one or two bottle lambs and can get enough milk from the mother or another ewe, this will pay for it,” he says. “And using true milk for those lambs is better for them.”
McKinney has used the milker for three years, says anyone who has seen it likes it. People who come to his farm and see how it works are eager buy their own. Last year one man drove 50 miles to borrow it for overnight. And in another case, when a neighbour’s ewe stepped on a baby lamb and broke its leg, they borrowed the EZ Milker to bottle feed the lamb. The leg was repaired and the lamb recovered, with the EZ Milker helping to save the lamb as well as the ewe’s udder.
McKinney likes the fact the milker is easy on the teats. “A ewe’s udder and teats are not very well correlated with the size of a man’s hand,” he says. “If you try to strip out a ewe, the udder is vulnerable to damage and scar tissue. One of the virtues of the Udderly EZ milker is how easy it is on the udder.
“When you see how a ewe reacts when you put it on her, you realize it’s more comfortable to her than milking by hand. One man told me he’d have to tie a ewe to a gate to milk her. I told him to try this milker, and watch her relax. The immediate release of pressure, especially if she has a big udder, makes her feel better.”
The EZ Milker is especially helpful with the little St. Croix ewes if they ever have to be milked, says McKinney. “If they are lambing in late September and have been on dry grass, the udder may be only the size of a grapefruit, and the teats are only the size of a pimple,” he says. Because the teats are too small for hand milking, McKinney sets the ewe up on her hind quarters like it is being sheared, and uses a smaller dilator in the milker, made for sheep.
McKinney says there have been many times over the past three years where the EZ milker has been instrumental in helping save lambs. For more information on EZ Milker visit the company website at www.udderlyezllc.com.
Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband Lynn near Salmon, Idaho. Contact her at 208-756-2841.