David Thomas, Professor
Department of Animal Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Phone (608) 263-4306, (608) 263-4300
3:01 – Total Time
0:19 – Dairy sheep research ends
0:49 – More than 20 year history
1:05 – Research to meet demand
1:42 – Domestically produced sheep cheese
2:05 – Dairy sheep future looks good
2:28 – Pride in a productive research program
2:52 – Lead out
Sevie Kenyon: Visiting about dairy sheep, Dave Thomas, Department of Animal Science University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Dave, you’ve been working with dairy sheep for many years and now there’s going to be some changes can you briefly describe that for us?
Dave Thomas: We have the only dairy sheep research program in North America located at our Spooner Agricultural Research Station in Northwest Wisconsin, however the UW System is undergoing some real budget cuts and the decision has been made not to continue the dairy sheep research program. So, we’re planning to disperse the flock in October of this year.
Sevie Kenyon: Dave, how long have you been working with this dairy sheep program?
Dave Thomas: We started in about 1993 in building the dairy sheep parlor and then we had our first milking in the spring of 1995, so, 20 plus years.
Sevie Kenyon: And what was the thinking back then?
Dave Thomas: There was very little dairy sheep production in the U.S., there were a few producers that had started but there really was no research support for them, so we thought we could provide that and we went into it because there’s a very large market for sheep milk cheese in the U.S. Depending upon the year 35 to 50 to 55 percent of world exports of sheep milk cheese from all countries come to the U.S. and we produce hardly any. So we thought there was a potential there.
Sevie Kenyon: And have you addressed that potential over those 20 years?
Dave Thomas: It has increased, we still import far more than we produce but if you go into any reasonable cheese store in the U.S. you’ll now find domestic sheep milk cheeses that weren’t there 25 years ago, so I think from that measure it has been successful and I think it’s only going to continue to grow.
Sevie Kenyon: Dave what would you expect the future of dairy sheep to be here in the state?
Dave Thomas: I’m hopeful that in 20, 25 years from now the dairy sheep industry will be seeing the sort of growth that we’re seeing in the dairy goats. The dairy sheep industry is still in its infancy but I think it will continue to grow.
Sevie Kenyon: Dave you’ve got some love and labor of your own tied up in this over the years, how are you feeling about the program now?
Dave Thomas: I’m very proud of the program it’s been a productive program from the stand point of putting out research results that have aided the entire industry in North America. Whenever I see a domestic sheep milk cheese in a cheese case I know the farm that it came from, I know the producers that made it, so that’s a real sense of accomplishment.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Dave Thomas, Department of Animal Science University of Wisconsin-Madison in the college of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.