Even though sheep and goats are small ruminant animals of similar size, they produce different amounts and types of milk. Throughout the world, people drink more goat milk than milk from any other species. Sheep’s milk is rarely consumed as bottled whole milk. Because of their reproductive cycle, goats and sheep are seasonal rather than year-round milk producers. The milk is often not available between October and February, while cow’s milk is readily available year-round.
An average dairy sheep produces about 400 to 1,100 lbs. of milk during 160-day lactation. Nondairy breeds of sheep produce only 100 to 200 lbs. of milk during the lactation period. Dairy goats are milked for an average of 284 days per year and produce 1,200 to 2,600 lbs. of milk during the lactation period.
Sheep’s milk contains more total solids, fat, protein, carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorus than goat’s milk. The average fat content of sheep’s milk is 7.02 percent compared to 4 percent for goat’s milk. Therefore, the number of calories in sheep’s milk is significantly higher than the calories in goat’s milk. One-hundred grams of whole sheep’s milk contains about 193 calories, while the same amount of whole goat’s milk has approximately 129 calories.
Goat’s milk is commonly sold as bottled whole milk, while sheep's milk is rarely bottled. Both sheep’s and goat’s milk is more easily digested than cow’s milk. A mixture of 60 parts sheep’s milk to 40 parts water produces milk similar in texture and taste to cow’s milk. Cream does not rise quickly to the top when fresh whole goat or sheep’s milk sits on the counter.
Goat’s milk is made into creamy white cheese, yogurt, and evaporated or dried milk. Sheep’s milk is commonly made into cheese, butter and sometimes yogurt. Because of the total concentrates of fat, protein and solids, sheep’s milk has a higher product yield than goat’s milk. Sheep’s milk yields 18 to 25 percent cheese, while goat’s milk yields about 9 to 10 percent. Common sheep cheeses include feta, Roquefort and ricotta. Because sheep’s milk is seasonal and produced in small quantities, it is often frozen until there is a sufficient quantity to deliver to a cheesemaker. Dry sheep’s milk is mixed with cow’s milk to make specialty cheese products.