Charing Cross Sheep Dairy

May 2017

Sharing lessons learned from setting up a sheep milking flock in Canterbury.

Guy and Suzanne Trafford own and lease around 20 ha at Charing Cross not far from Hororata in Canterbury. They are currently setting up a sheep-milking flock. The next step for the Traffords will be setting up their own processing operation for making ice cream. Guy is a lecturer in farm management and agribusiness at Lincoln University and his wife, Suzanne is a lecturer in business communication.

Guy was introduced to sheep dairy when the trust owning Tangihanga Station in Gisborne asked him to check out sheep milking as a business venture. It is still quite early days in their sheep milking business. Their dairy shed and processing operation has just been finished. They say gaining consents has been tough but they have waded through most of the paper work.

The milking equipment was bought from former goat cheese makers.

The sheep milk will be pasteurised firstly at the plant and then homogenised to make it smoother for blending, before going through ice cream manufacturing and blast frozen over a two-day process.

The Traffords plan on keeping production small, but would eventually like to bring in sheep milk from other local producers to process at their plant. Guy says people who are lactose intolerant find sheep milk easier on their system than conventional dairy products.

Guy says the original rams came from Miles King at Kingsmeade. He says they chose black sheep to protect them from sunburn – which appears to have a big impact on the East Freisan breed.

At present there are 150 mixed aged ewes and around 45 hoggets which are grazing off farm. Guy says the ewes are lambing at 180% and the hoggets over 150%.

What happens to the offspring of animals in a dairying business has become a recent animal welfare focus for consumers. Guy and Sue say they are committed to keeping all their lambs on farm for a minimum of six weeks. The couple say there is money to be made in rearing lambs but there are a couple of tricks to doing it well.

They’ve learnt that the milk should be chilled before feeding and they say are adding a probiotic to the milk - those two steps seem to avoid the problem of lambs getting bloat. They are trialling a couple of systems – one where the lambs are left on the mother and share-milked – another where the lambs are taking off the ewe and fed using a lambateria. The challenge with leaving the lamb on the ewe and share milking is a high risk of mastitis.

Each Friesian is expected to produce 200 litres of milk a year for about 24 kilograms of milksolids.

Store lambs will be sold to other farmers for finishing.

Guy says they inherited some less than ideal pastures on the blocks they have and had mixed results with some experimental pastures they’ve sown.   They sowed a mixture of Lucerne, chicory and plantain to give the sheep some “rocket fuel”. Some blocks have been sprayed out for weeds while on others haven’t. Some areas received irrigated, while others didn’t.   Guy says the areas that had the least intervention seemed to be going the best.

At present their milk is being taken by Emilio Festa.   Emilio and his wife Adrianna have an 80ha property close to where the Traffords grow crops. In 2010 the Festas started making cheeses as hobbyists before they moved to fulltime artisan cheese making in 2013. In 2014 the Festas won the New Zealand Champion of Cheese award.