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New Zealand’s Sheep Milking Industry Is Expanding

New Zealand’s sheep milking industry has reached a significant milestone as Spring Sheep Milk Co. adds three new farmers to their growing supplier base for the coming dairy season. The new farms are coming onstream as the global dairy company responds to demand for nutritional products made with New Zealand sheep milk.

The addition of new farms is an important tipping point for Spring Sheep as this year the milking flock maintained by external suppliers will exceed that of Spring Sheep’s own farms. These additional milking ewes will help grow the company’s product lines into new markets as well as.

Growing consumer awareness and clinical evidence of sheep milk’s nutritional and digestibility benefits means demand is rising and Spring Sheep is now looking to partner with additional suppliers for the following 2021 dairy season. There has been plenty of interest from farmers looking to diversify or convert their existing farms. Interest is driven by multi-year fixed price milk contracts, a low environmental land use, greater utilisation of existing assets and succession opportunities for the next generation.

The new suppliers for this season are all in the Waikato and are using Spring Sheep’s signature bovine to ovine conversion model to convert existing cow infrastructure and repurposing the farm to suit sheep. This will see over 250 hectares of land transfer from traditional cow dairy to sheep dairy.

“Over the past several years we have been developing and growing the Spring Sheep milk pool through producing leading sheep dairy genetics matched to proven farming models. Refining how to milk sheep in New Zealand using our unique farm system advantages has been a key focus. The combination of Spring Sheep’s leading yields and established farming systems means the timing is right for expansion with supplier farmers looking for high value land uses with a low environmental impact ” says Thomas Macdonald, Spring Sheep General Manager – Milk Supply.

For new suppliers looking to enter the industry Spring Sheep has been developing flocks of high performance dairy sheep with mixed age profile and comprehensive records. Typically flocks are delivered in June ahead of the milking season to assist farmers by allowing a focus on the conversion process before receiving the ewes. Ongoing flock improvement for suppliers is achieved through access to elite breeding rams as part of the supplier contract.

“Our use of a combination of leading European dairy breeds that were selected and adapted for New Zealand conditions through an extensive genetic development program has resulted in a high performance flock of milking sheep which continue to increase in yield and milkability traits season after season. Milk production is rapidly climbing through a longer peak milk period and greater days in milk, now over 240 days.”

The top ewes at Spring Sheep’s pilot farms produced over 500 litres this season showing even top global yields are achievable in a New Zealand farming system. Macdonald says supplier farmers can expect to produce 250 litres per ewe as a starting yield given the nature of learning a new farming system and adapting to sheep dairy farming. Long run yields of 350-400 litres per ewe on average are expected in the coming seasons.

In the 2019/20 dairy season new studies and trials on farm have led to efficiencies in lamb rearing, animal health, grazing techniques and increased production per ewe with an overall drop in the cost of production.

“Seeing these farm systems gains combined with new generations of elite milking sheep has been exciting for Spring Sheep’s current suppliers and a great network of knowledge and support is now available for new farmers joining the industry” says Macdonald.

Global demand for high value products made with New Zealand sheep milk has seen Spring Sheep enjoy their fifth consecutive sell-out season. The launch of Sheep Milk Full Cream Powder Pouches and Infant Formula product lines absorbing every litre of production from the growing farmer group.

“Sheep milk is a fast growing dairy market segment, particularly in Asia, given its digestive and nutritional benefits compared to other dairy products” says Scottie Chapman, Spring Sheep Chief Executive Officer.

“The alternative milk category has been experiencing very strong growth for many years – with sheep milk we’re looking to create an industry that is sustainably matched to this demand as well as producing a product that is more easily digestible and better for our consumers.”

“We’ve also seen further growth with the demand for our products rising considerably through the COVID-19 outbreak, especially with many governments backing the consumption of dairy for immune health.”

Spring Sheep markets its sheep milk nutritional products in Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and New Zealand. On the horizon is a launch into the China market, followed closely by Australia and select Asian markets next year.

To prepare for the upcoming growth, Spring Sheep has secured long term access to a new drying plant with Melody Dairy at Rurakura, a new 1.2t per hour spray dryer suited to fresh milk and manufacturing of Spring Sheep’s nutritional product lines. The new dryer is currently in commissioning and will be ready to take the increase in milk this dairy season.

“Sheep milk a great story for New Zealand and one we can all be proud of. We pride ourselves on being from a country that’s famous for its superior dairy know-how, open minds and for having favourable pasture based systems for sheep. By weaving our New Zealand values into every part of the business, we believe we’re in the best position to put New Zealand sheep milk on the map and to reinforce New Zealand’s position as a world leader in quality dairy innovation.” Says Chapman.

If you’re interested in becoming a Spring Sheep Supplier for the 2021 season, please contact info@springsheep.co.nz

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