By Chelsea Boyle
Over the course of almost 50 years a Wairarapa family has been quietly expanding Canea farm in Carrington, recently branching out into the burgeoning industry of dairy sheep.
They started off with 60 dairy cows and couple of pigs, which soon expanded into a pork unit, and all these years later have added dairy sheep.
Sandie Shivas is managing-director of the farm which now boasts the largest sheep dairy flock in Wairarapa.
She said they were keen to give pasture-based sheep milking a go because the milk has “great health benefits”.
The family also thought it would utilize an area of the farm that is marginal for dairy cows while at the “same time may be easier on the environment”.
She said they were also mindful of future generations and open to new farming possibilities.
“We have four generations on the farms now and still have a drive to look forward and make decisions that include growth and change.”
Simply put, she said it seemed the time had come for dairy sheep milking.
“We began our flock in 2015 with a base of in-lamb East Friesian hoggets.”
The sheep are milked in a herringbone style shed twice daily for the bulk of the season but at the bookends of each season milking is curtailed to once daily.
“We milked 200 ewes this season and expect to milk 500 next,” she said.
Since it is a reasonably new endeavour, the farm is trialling East Friesian rams over other breeds to produce 3/4 East Friesian ewes for milking.
“The East Friesian are our highest milk yielders in New Zealand but they aren’t hardy like our New Zealand meat sheep have become.”
Mrs Shivas credited a “great team” for adapting along the way and finding solutions.
“We’ve had some fun challenges this first season,” she said.
“Since we converted from a dairy cow unit we had a big challenge with a small amount of milk going into the original large vat.”
She describes her sheep dairy manager Caio Roach as “experienced and passionate about sheep milking”.
But a long working visa process getting Mr Roach from Brazil meant Mrs Shivas had to absorb every aspect of a sheep dairy business herself before he arrived in what she described as a “steep learning curve”.
“We were really excited to see Caio and Jessica [his wife] arrive in January.”
Mrs Shivas said she had been enjoying the new venture and believed it had “enormous potential”.
She was surprised by how clean the shed stayed and how quickly the sheep, especially the hoggets, had learned to come into the shed.
They are keen to expand the operation but would do so “cautiously, as it needs to stay in step with market demand for product”.
Currently the milk is supplied to Kingsmeade to produce cheeses.
“There’s huge scope to utilize the whey with its high protein, and to widen the products available to the community,” she said.
“Craig Prichard spoke at the Wairarapa Sheep Milk Futures meeting in Masterton about the impact he’s seen sheep milk can have on family relationships.”
He talked about how sheep milk products allow children that have had challenges with dairy intolerance to “join in with the rest of the family” and eat dairy products like ice-cream and yoghurt, she said.
She said sheep milk had about twice the protein that cow and goat milk had, as well as having higher counts of Omega 3, Vitamin B’s & C.
“The fat globules are naturally smaller and naturally homogenized, digestion takes around 40 minutes.”
Mrs Shivas said they were just beginning to explore the market for making other sheep milk products that will benefit consumers and provide the most beneficial economic returns for a sheep milking industry.
“This of course, has to be market led, the easy part is producing milk so we need to have a market ready if we’re going to grow.”