Farm­ing fam­ily’s world first as they be­gin to milk ewes

Caernarfon Herald - - NEWS -

A farm­ing fam­ily on the Llŷn penin­sula has be­come the first in North Wales – and only the sec­ond in the coun­try – to milk their sheep com­mer­cially.

Third gen­er­a­tion farmer Alan Jones, wife Bethan and two sons Osian and Morgan started with 30 ewes and hope to be milk­ing 78 by March.

By 2020 they aim to have a 450-head milk­ing flock at Der­wen Gam, their 230-acre or­ganic hold­ing in Ch­wilog, Pwll­heli.

The fam­ily were wary of the need for economies of scale as mar­gins fall. “Go­ing niche is the only way to get an ad­e­quate re­turn,” said Mr Jones.

Alan and Osian have built a small-scale sin­gle-sided her­ring­bone par­lour that can milk 30 ewes in 45 min­utes.

Its mod­u­lar de­sign means the farm’s two ma­chines can be scaled up to eight, en­abling the fam­ily to milk 120 in the same time-frame. They ini­tially opted for Fries­land ewes, the most com­mon and high­est yield­ing milker in Bri­tain, while they ex­plored other breeds.

“I even had a go at milk­ing a Welsh ewe – not very suc­cess­fully,” said Alan.

“She was too wild and kept kick­ing out, so I had to give up af­ter two weeks.

“Still, it was prob­a­bly the first ever Welsh sheep to be milked by ma­chine!”

In­stead, with one eye on lamb pro­duc­tion, they set­tled on the Lleyn.

Milk out­put is much lower than spe­cial­ist dairy sheep, which can pro­duce up to 1,100lb of milk per year.

But Alan said there were other ben­e­fits.

“They are much hardier and pro­duce lambs with much bet­ter con­for­ma­tion,” he said.

“Whereas the Fries­lands will lie down in the shed dur­ing bad weather, the Lleyns will be out in the fields eating grass and mak­ing money.”

There’s a mar­ket­ing ad­van­tage too.

“As far as I am aware, we’re the only peo­ple in the world milk­ing Lleyn sheep!” said Alan.

“The Lleyn may have a lower milk yield but its ra­tio of 6% but­ter­fat to 5% pro­tein gives it a rich­ness which en­hances the taste of the cheese. There are many re­ported health ben­e­fits too.”

All milk is supplied to Bethesda cheese maker Car­rie Rimes, who learnt her trade in France and now spe­cialises in cheeses made from ewe’s milk.

Last year her busi­ness, Cosyn Cymru, col­lected the best new prod­uct ac­co­lade at the Bri­tish Cheese Awards.

How­ever plans to cre­ate a new dairy at Moe­lyci, Tregarth, are hang­ing in the bal­ance as the com­mu­nity farm at­tempts to raise the £1.1m needed to buy the site.

De­mand for sheep’s milk is ris­ing and while there are some 200 pro­duc­ers reg­is­tered with the Bri­tish Sheep Dairy­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, Car­rie was keen to source her sup­plies from North Wales. Pre­vi­ously her milk was trucked from Lan­cashire.

She got in­volved with a Farm­ing Con­nect Agris­gôp group led by farm con­sul­tant and en­tre­pre­neur Geraint Hughes. Mem­bers in­cluded sheep pro­duc­ers look­ing to add value to their en­ter­prises, from meat box de­liv­er­ies to mi­cro dairies.

Two were ex­plor­ing sheep’s milk, in­clud­ing Alan and Osian, who quickly showed in­ter­est in a prod­uct which can sell for two to three times that of cows’ milk.

Car­rie said sat­is­fy­ing the grow­ing de­mand for lo­cal ewe’s milk was a chicken-and-egg sit­u­a­tion, with new pro­ces­sors need­ing new pro­duc­ers, and vice versa.

As a re­sult, Alan and Osian’s milk­ing unit was a boost for the whole sec­tor in North Wales.

She added: “I’m now op­ti­mistic that this will en­cour­age new pro­ces­sors to get in­volved, which will in turn re­sult in new mar­kets for both pas­teurised and un­pas­teurised cheese as well as yo­ghurt, ice cream and but­ter.”

For Alan and Osian, join­ing Geraint’s Agris­gôp group pro­vided sup­port and guid­ance from other sheep pro­duc­ers.

Alan re­called the early meet­ings: “Al­though some of us were ini­tially re­luc­tant to share ideas and trust each other, we soon re­alised how much knowl­edge we had in the group.

“It be­came clear we could learn from each other with­out lim­it­ing our chances of suc­cess.

“Work­ing this way gives you the courage to take those dif­fi­cult first steps at a time when many farm­ers would feel iso­lated.”

Geraint Hughes (left) with Alan Jones and wife Bethan. In the back­ground, their son Osian is milk­ing Lleyn ewes

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