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Sheep dairy better match for clean green image

2 November 2017

Sheep dairy better match for clean green image

New Lincoln research points to sheep dairy better fulfilling the green credentials New Zealand uses to differentiate its produce in the global market than its cow counterparts.

Senior Lecturer in Agribusiness Management Dr Nic Lees co-authored the paper “Competitive advantage through responsible innovation in the New Zealand sheep dairy industry.”

It finds, rather than competing on cost the sheep dairy industry should promote sustainability and environmental benefits, and be innovative.

“Future environmental constraints make milking sheep a more sustainable option than milking cows in New Zealand,” Dr Lees said.

Sheep do not have the same nitrogen leaching effect as cows because they have a lower volume of urine.

Sheep milk also has health benefits.

It has three-times higher whey content compared to cow milk, which aids digestion. It also has higher calcium and higher vitamin D levels, which aid the regulation of phosphorous and calcium absorption essential for bone mineralisation.

Sheep milk also contains different forms of proteins that are unlike the beta-lactoglobulin and alpha S1 casein in cow milk that commonly cause milk allergies and intolerance.

He said there is an opportunity to build on the positive perception of low intensity, pasture-based production systems.

“By emphasising these attributes in marketing, sheep dairy products could obtain market advantage and could potentially gain higher product premiums. At the same time, this would help meet the requirement from stakeholders for environmentally sustainable agricultural production.

“Furthermore, consumers are increasingly looking for foods that align with their personal values, such as environmental sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade and organic production. The industry has the potential to see this not as a compliance cost but as a way to provide a valuable competitive advantage.”

He said it could invest in developing new innovations such as superior sheep milk products for niche sectors like health, infant care and gourmet food.

It is estimated that the demand for sheep milk is growing by 10-20 per cent each year

New Zealand’s largest sheep dairy operation, the Blue River Dairy, has seen a 50 per cent increase in the milk powder price over the last three years.


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