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Could dairy sheep put us back on the sheep’s back?

Could dairy sheep put us back on the sheep’s back?

With Landcorp eyeing the potential of dairy sheep, the United States could be to our sheep industry what China is to dairy cattle, opening a bold new chapter for New Zealand’s most numerous farmed animal.

“New Zealand has a small but thriving dairy sheep industry,” says Rick Powdrell, Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre vice-chairperson.

“News that Landcorp is now eyeing dairy sheep is exciting when you put it together with the sheep genome being mapped and a Trans Pacific Partnership edging ever closer.

“We need to be clear that nothing less than the full elimination of agricultural tariffs in the TPP is acceptable to our members. I say that not only with my meat and fibre hat on but because the United States imported about half of the world’s sheep cheese last year.

“This is not just about the United States because the International Dairy Federation (IDF) states dairy sheep play an important role in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.

“The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation puts the global share of sheep milk at 1.4 percent but in terms of who we are actively trading with, or seeking to develop trade relationships with, the potential is huge.

“In South East Asia, sheep milk accounts for 3.9 percent of milk production, in China it is 4.2 percent while in North Africa and the Middle East, it is 7.5 percent.

“Sheep play a significantly bigger role than dairy goats in these markets and I suspect that will surprise some people.

“Sheep milk contains higher milksolids in comparison to cows milk, hence its popularity for cheese, but it also commands a premium with consumers as it is more easily digested.

“Earlier this year greater commercial interest in sheep milk saw the International Standards Organisation with the IDF extend ISO to the measurement of protein in sheep milk as well as goats. Clearly, there is growing interest in an animal that thrives in New Zealand.

“Locally, Southland’s vertically integrated Blue River processes sheep milk into cheese, ice cream and milk powder with that last product overwhelmingly exported. There’s also Waituhi Kuratau in the North Island with its Matatoki Farm brand.

“Given environmental factors dairy sheep could play an important role in the industry’s future and Federated Farmers is very keen to explore this in depth with our members.

“With Landcorp now actively considering dairy sheep, this evolution could make sheep a tri-use animal for dairy, meat and fibre. This would greatly aid the rejuvenation of our industry and potentially put New Zealand back on the sheep’s back,” Mr Powdrell concluded.


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