Open day draws a crowd

Waikato News - - RURAL - Jane Arnott

“Get those rams in the pad­dock!”

That’s the ad­vice for any­one con­tem­plat­ing a farm con­ver­sion to dairy sheep. Maui Milk gen­eral man­ager Peter Gat­ley says this is the first step and there are no short­cuts.

“The low­est cost and low­est-risk part of a dairy sheep farm is breed­ing the an­i­mals. If farm­ers are in­ter­ested, by putting some rams out this year they would have first cross hoggets to milk next year.”

The re­cently con­verted mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar Waikino Sta­tion, in the western bays of Lake Taupo¯ , hit the head­lines re­cently when it launched a ma­jor in­vest­ment in ge­netic im­prove­ment and farm sys­tem de­vel­op­ment that was fully funded by Chi­nese com­pany Be Well Farm Group.

The launch at­tracted dozens of po­ten­tial in­vestors and dis­trib­u­tors from over­seas. It was fol­lowed by an open day that was at­tended by 300 peo­ple, in­clud­ing ru­ral bankers and ac­coun­tants.

Maui Milk is a joint ven­ture be­tween Be Well and the Waituhi Ku­ratau Trust. Be Well’s pres­i­dent Chen Liang was present at the launch and con­firmed that longert­erm plans in­clude a pro­cess­ing plant to add value to the sheep milk.

Cu­mu­la­tively there are now 5000 sheep be­ing milked twice daily by Maui Milk at Waikino and the milk­ing en­ter­prise at a farm owned by dairy sheep pi­o­neers Waituhi Ku­ratau Trust.

Dairy sheep and sheep milk­ing op­er­a­tions are not new to New Zealand but sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­try growth re­lies on in­creas­ing milk pro­duc­tion. Peter, who al­ready had over 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence in live­stock im­prove­ment meth­ods in­volv­ing ge­net­ics, trav­elled ex­ten­sively re­search­ing sheep breeds and their po­ten­tial con­tri­bu­tion to New Zealand’s fledg­ing in­dus­try.

The Awassi from Is­rael, known for its har­di­ness and abil­ity to re­sist dra­matic tem­per­a­ture swings, along with the La­caune, a high-yield­ing milk breed from France, were iden­ti­fied for mix­ing with the ex­ist­ing East Friesian that was in need of some fresh ge­net­ics to boost the gene pool. The re­sult was a world first sheep milk­ing breed named South­ern Cross.

“We looked at the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the var­i­ous breeds and gained ac­cess to the se­men we wanted. Over time and dif­fer­ent lamb­ing sea­sons we worked to­wards cre­at­ing a milk­ing ewe that would be suited to New Zealand’s con­di­tions. The rel­e­vant traits that we were search­ing for in­cluded milk vol­ume, tem­per­a­ment, longevity,” said Peter.

The ben­e­fits of sheep’s milk in­clude hav­ing 45 per cent more pro­tein than dairy. The milk is able to be di­gested more rapidly and can be an al­ter­na­tive for those who have trou­ble di­gest­ing cow milk. Be­cause sheep have a much lower level of ni­tro­gen leach­ing than cat­tle, the ni­tro­gen dis­charge al­lowances run at about 15kg/N ha in con­trast to dairy farms that typ­i­cally have 40+kg/N ha.

The sheep pro­duce milk as year­lings rather than two-year-olds, they typ­i­cally have more than one lamb and milk­ing can be quicker as milk let-down is rapid. These com­bine to pro­vide a cost ef­fi­cient re­turn on in­vest­ment — an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when most of the milk­ing tech­nol­ogy needs to be im­ported.

“Ev­ery­one seems to agree with the ob­jec­tives of sheep dairy­ing such as di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, high value prod­uct, sta­ble far­m­gate pay­out and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity.

“New Zealand ex­per­tise in both sheep farm­ing and pas­toral dairy­ing are be­ing com­bined to de­liver on the po­ten­tial, and the first job is to breed the sheep. If this is de­layed, no amount of money can turn back the clock,” says Peter.

EWE’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT: At­ten­dees at Maui Milk’s open day get­ting very ex­cited at milk­ing time.

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