New facility near Acton hopes to meet growing demand for sheep milk

A new state-of-the-art facility has opened near Acton, Ont. specializing in sheep milk and yogurt.

Ovino can house over 2,000 sheep and uses automated technology that benefits both the sheep and the farmers.

Jay and Frank Akras are the co-owners of the operation. They say Ovino is the largest dairy sheep farm and they hope the demand for their products continues to grow.

Sheep milk is different from cow or goat milk in taste and nutritional value.

"There are several factors that differentiate sheep milk from cow milk. Cow milk that you commonly find in the store is A1, that means it has the A1 protein. While sheep milk is A2 protein," Frank explained. "A2 just digests easier for humans and a lot of people that are lactose intolerant find sheep milk more than tolerable. They can drink sheep milk with no issues."

Frank says sheep milk is packed with double the nutritional value including protein, vitamins and minerals.

Currently, Ovino has about 700 sheep, a breed called Lacaune, although not all their animals are being milked.

"For us, we have seen milk produce between one to two litres. I would say on average they give us 1.7 to 1.8 litres a day. Definitely much less than cow milk or goat milk but it's still a lot. We milk them a lot and quite fast," Frank said.

Ovino uses automated feeding, bedding and milking technologies. The sheep are fed and bedded by electrically powered TKS machines that travel along the ceiling on structural steel rails.

Penney says "We milk our sheep on a rotary parlour, which means 80 sheep can be milked at once," said Ovino shepherdess Madison Penney. "The sheep are going to go on the parlour one at a time. They get corn as a treat and they get milked. The parlour moves in a circular motion, they are probably on it for five minutes or less."

The machine counts and records how much each sheep is producing and will automatically release when the milk flow is reducing.

According to Ovina, the sheep are milked twice a day and the rotary parlour can milk up to 1,000 sheep per hour. The sheep milk is then processed on-farm to produce fresh sheep milk and sheep yogurt.

"Our main priority is the health and well-being of our sheep," Penney said. "Our sheep are in a freestyle setting meaning they roam around. We have lambs on a milk replacer machine, they have red collars to let the machine know who they are and how much milk they are allowed to have in a day."

"Back in our old barn there was a lot of pitchfork work, that was exhausting and limits your capabilities as a farmer," Frank said. "Over here we decided we wanted automation for the feeding, the bedding and even for the lambs when we give them milk replacer. So a lot of it isn't just for us for our ease but for the animals."

Ovino is offering farm tours, giving the public a chance to meet the sheep and lambs, learn more about the facility and sheep milk as well as taste their products.

"There is a little bit of a learning curve for customers," Frank said. "A lot of people come to the farm and they think it's like goat milk. In fact, some people think the sheep are goats but sheep are completely different from goats."

He continued: "the taste you can definitely distinguish as goat milk which has more of a sour taste, sheep's milk is sweet and creamy it tastes closer to cow's milk than goat milk. When people try it they are definitely really amazed. It's nice to see customers have their faces light up when they try it."

This new venture for the family-owned and operated facility is just getting started.

"We honestly love these animals. I don't see anything short-term with farming here," Frank said.

More details about Ovino can be found on their Facebook page or website.