Leading-edge dairy sheep conversion open to public

Some of the East Friesian sheep which are part of the flock at Waikino Station, overlooking Lake Taupo.

A stunning new facility near Lake Taupo which milks 2000 ewes is to hold a public open day in early 2018.

The facility incorporates genetic, electronic and mechanical technology to combine a hybrid farm system with a new hybrid dairy sheep created specifically for New Zealand conditions.

It will provide access to genetics and knowledge for farmers interested in converting to become suppliers to Maui Milk Limited.

Development of the 770-hectare property overlooking Lake Taupo, known as Waikino Station, has been funded by the Maui Food Group Ltd. The Shanghai-based marketing company formed Maui Milk with joint venture partner Waituhi Kuratau Trust, which pioneered sheep milking in the region in 2007.

The property has been developed with new pasture, plantain and lucerne. A 64-bale internal rotary has been imported from France with the plant including in-line electronic milk meters, automatic cup removers, Reporoa backing gates, and an adjustable height platform in the pit to ensure comfort and ergonomic efficiency for milkers.

 Two barns, capable of housing 1000 ewes each, come complete with feed conveyors. The intention is to use the housing to minimise climatic stress on the ewes and to ensure lamb survival. This hybrid farm system complements the all-outdoor operation on the WKT farm so Maui Milk is able to compare the pros and cons of each. Just as in the cow dairy industry, it is expected that there is a role for both.

Lamb rearing

 A purpose-built lamb rearing facility has already graduated 1400 valuable AI and ET lambs onto pasture. The goal is to have as many as possible reach 50kg for mating as hoggets.

 General manager Peter Gatley and geneticist Jake Chardon bring a strong focus on genetic improvement and have secured the genes necessary to create a crossbred with genetic diversity and hybrid vigour. Incorporating the main northern hemisphere dairy sheep breeds (East Friesian, Awassi and Lacaune), and built on a Coopworth base, it will be known as the ‘Southern Cross’ breed. Mating last autumn involved more than 2000 straws of French Lacaune semen and 450 UK East Friesian embryos, with backup by Awassi/East Friesian cross rams.

The farm has a key role in promoting Maui Milk in offshore markets where affluent customers demand high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. Directly overlooking Lake Taupo, the property is subject to close scrutiny by the Waikato Regional Council. It has a very low Nitrogen Discharge Allowance, because a previous owner sold some of the original rights, and now operates well under the level of most traditional sheep and beef farms in the district.

Cold winters

Peter and Jake selected the property for several reasons and say they have yet to see another they would rather have for the purpose. The cold winters and pumice soils provide a healthy environment for sheep, and there is usually little challenge from facial eczema. The location is ideal for growing lucerne which is grazed and fed as silage in the barns. The farm offers scale for future growth, and a good mix of topography. Being only 15 minutes from the original WKT farm is a bonus, and the tanker collects milk for processing into WMP at Waikato Innovation Park.

Anyone wanting to attend the 2018 field day is invited to register by email: office@southerncrossdairysheep.co.nz


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