Producers increase in goat and sheep dairy

Article Details

9 Dec, 2019

Dairy News

New Zealand

The dairy landscape in New Zealand is changing, as it is around the world.

Our small ruminant specialists, Andy Geissmann and Gary Feeney, take a look at those helping to develop sheep and goat dairy farming in New Zealand.

The dairy landscape in New Zealand is changing, as it is around the world.

People are becoming more aware of the environmental impact dairy farming has on the land.

And as a result, consumers are looking for dairy products which have been made from farming practices that have a lower environmental footprint.

Sheep dairy and goat dairy are emerging as two industries which have real potential to meet those expectations.

Nutritional benefits, an awareness of lactose sensitivity, a change in consumers’ taste for dairy food and the expanding global middle-class are some of the drivers pushing up demand for sheep and goat dairy products.

Farming sheep and goats is a lot more gentle on the environment, there’s less nitrogen loading required, a lot less water needed and a smaller area needed to farm the animals.

The sheep and goat industries are starting to gather momentum. This is what we discovered at Fieldays 2019, when we recorded keen interest from farmers looking for more information on small ruminants.

New Zealand is in a good position to explore opportunities to expand in the sheep and goat markets.

We’re seen as a clean, green producer. We have a positive image around environmental care. And as a result, milk products from cows, sheep and goats are becoming much sought after by global consumers.

Learning from sheep

Spring Sheep in the Waikato and Maui Milk near Taupo are two companies which have been working on developing systems and practices in the sheep dairy industry over the past five years.

Both held open days in November 2019 to show farmers and those working in the industry, how they operate and what they’ve learned so far.

We attended Spring Sheep’s Open Day at its demonstration farm in Matangi, just south of Hamilton.

Spring Sheep shared some of their experiences and on-farm practices, during a Q&A session.

The feedback can be held up as a guide for other farmers looking to become Spring Sheep suppliers, to consider.

Some of the key conversations were around animal health, lambing, shearing, stock rates and fencing.

When the Matangi farm was converted from cows to sheep,  Spring Sheep invested in upgrading its fences and adding more wires.

Spring Sheep has found that managing sheep is very similar to managing cows on pasture.

This can be done with a break fence, with two or three wires instead of one. 

The sheep are milked twice a day on a seasonal milk curve (August through to April). Unlike other New Zealand sheep, Spring Sheep ewes come to the shed often and staff can identify and manage the health and performance of the flock.

Three farm management strategies were discussed at the open day, following farmer questions regarding facial eczema, heat stress in the summer and wet conditions in the winter.

Foot health is also an important area to monitor. Spring Sheep have found that their ewes perform exceptionally well in the Waikato conditions.

Farmers questioned cases of Mastitis, where Spring Sheep were able to report extremely low incidence.

Spring Sheep rear all lambs born. This is done by the farm teams, as well as external rearers to help with the spring influx of lambs. 

The Matangi farm, with good grass feed, uses a stock rate of 17-18 ewes per hectare.

Spring Sheep Milk Company is a joint venture between state-owned enterprise Pamu and marketing firm SLC Group.

It also operates two more sheep dairy farms, one near Cambridge and the other near Reporoa.

All three are pilot farms, working as models for others to follow, creating opportunities for New Zealanders to become sheep dairy farmers and suppliers.

Spring Sheep onboarded their first supplier farmer this year, and has limited spots available to bring on farmer suppliers in the Waikato region for the coming year.

Behaviour difference

When it comes to best practice, it’s important to understand that the behaviour and physiology of sheep and goats are very different.

Goats are always on the go, they are inquisitive animals that like to investigate things.

They like being up high, don’t like to lay around much and don’t like getting their feet wet.

Sheep are followers, have to have eye contact with each other and don’t like to be separated.

All of these traits need to be taken into account if you’re planning to convert your milking parlour from cows, to goats or sheep.

As underlined by Spring Sheep, animal welfare, whether that be for sheep, goats or cows, is paramount to farmers.

The more care we put into looking after our animals, the better the animals will provide for us. The animals are happier, farmers are happier.

Public perception of dairy farming has prompted changes to many things but overall, animal health is right up there at the top in every farmer’s mind.

Dairy Goat Co-operative

That’s clearly a view shared by the Dairy Goat Co-operative (NZ), which was formed in 1984 and now distributes to more than 30 countries around the world.

It uses New Zealand’s Code of Welfare for Goats for its farming systems. It specifies what is considered to be optimal animal welfare and how this may be achieved for goats farmed under New Zealand conditions.

Dairy Goat Co-operative animals thrive on New Zealand grown, on-farm forages such as grasses, clover, lucerne, hay, silage or pasture plants.

Milk is collected from Dairy Goat Co-operative partner farms and delivered directly to its production facility in Hamilton.

Sheep and Goat Project

The Sheep and Goat Dairy Project is an initiative supported by the Provincial Growth Fund, from January 2019 until March 2020.

It is a good place for farmers looking to enter the small ruminant market to gather information and advice.

The project aims to transform the sector from an emergent one with regional pockets of success, to a nationwide sector that’s innovative and thriving.

It will ensure New Zealand farmers, manufacturers and marketers are well placed to meet the global demand for nutritious, environmentally sustainable, premium milk products.

The project will identify markets where New Zealand companies can compete, focusing on high value, consumer-ready products such as yoghurt, liquid milk and cheese.

It aims to engage both farmers, suppliers as well as manufacturers and marketers, to grow more business opportunities.

It has a range of resources and reports to read as well as workshops and events to attend all over New Zealand, for farmers looking to understand more about sheep and goat farming.


This story appeared in Getting The Basics Right, a feature by Dairy News, NZ.

Andy Geissmann is Head of Sheep/Goat Milking and Milking Components and Gary Feeney is the Regional Manager Sales & Service Upper North Island, for Waikato Milking Systems.