12 months ago, Scotty and Ash McLocklan sold up their herd of cows in the South Island, returning to the North Island to embark on a new challenge. This would see them joining Maui Milk’s genetics side of the business, running the company’s sheep dairy farm located on the edge of Lake Taupo, the largest volcanic lake in New Zealand.
Scotty, now Dairy Manager at Southern Cross Dairy Sheep was born and raised on a farm in the Waikato and started relief milking around the district when he was 14, dairy farming full time around 5 years after he had finished school.
When asked what attracted the couple to the roles, Ash says that the sheep dairy industry in New Zealand is just so completely different and innovative, which is exciting to be part of—and the view isn’t too bad either, she laughed. The managers house where Scotty and Ash live with their two young boys is perched on a hill overlooking the lake.
“Milking cows is very different to milking sheep, and there’s something new to learn every day, and it changes, which is good. Milking sheep is physically easier on the body too.” Scotty said.
“With the sheep being free range and pasture-fed year-round, with limited Nitrogen Discharge Allowances (NDA) being within the Taupo lake catchment, the environmental impact is favorable which is important to Ash and myself,” says Scotty. “On top of that, you’re still able to sustain an efficient business.”
The geographic location of the farm was also appealing to the couple as this is where Scotty’s family’s iwi Ngāti Tūwharetoa is descended from. With them relocating back into the area, it provided an opportunity for them to reconnect with their whakapapa. Reciting your whakapapa (geneology) is a fundamental principle in Māori culture linking oneself to land and tribal groupings.
Sheep milk tastes like shortbread
But it’s not just the views and working conditions that the McLocklans enjoy about the industry. "The product is so good, sheep milk tastes like shortbread," says Scotty.
Ash loves the cheese and has tried and enjoyed many different types made from Maui Milk’s sheep milk by Over the Moon Dairy Company and Meyer Cheese. Tom, Maui Milk’s Milk Supply General Manager, and Leah, CEO usually bring some down when they visit. The Southern Cross team have weekly BBQ’s on a Thursday over the lambing season, where burgers are topped with grilled sheep halloumi and feta—"It’s a feast,” says Ash.
A passion for Te Reo Māori (Māori language)
When Ash was pregnant with Bobby, she and Scotty had conversations around how they wanted to make sure their kids were connected to their culture and to their whakapapa, and they believed that language was the strongest way to achieve that. Ash says she bought as many books as she could and she started learning whenever possible. At home, she and Scotty would practice by incorporating the words and phrases they had learnt and eventually they were able to form basic sentences. “It’s just evolved from there,” says Ash.
By the time Māia was born, the three of them were already speaking a lot of Māori at home, and now they all only speak Māori at home. “It takes a lot of commitment because it’s easy when you’re busy to revert back to English,” says Ash.
The books the couple read to their children at night are all in Māori. There are a lot of popular English children’s books that have been translated into Māori, like Hairy Maclary, Cat in a Hat and more. “Kids book are amazing because the language is simple and the words are repetitive so it’s a great way to learn a new language as an adult,” says Ash.
The kids both go to Te Kōhanga Reo in Taupo for around 6 hours a day, 2-3 days per week. Kōhanga Reo are a group of centres situated throughout New Zealand that provide a Māori cultural environment for young children.
Because of the distance from the farm, Ash would often stay there with Bobby and Māia for the day, finding it helpful for her learning. Having progressed so well, she is often asked to work at the centre as a reliever. “So it’s a full immersion environment for all of us," says Ash.
As they are trying to gain as much understanding as they can, they will embrace new opportunities to learn wherever possible. Leading up to Matariki, the family would make a big bed in the lounge at night time, and have picnic dinners there while watching a lot of animation about Matariki that’s geared towards children. In Māori culture, Matariki is the name of the Pleiades star cluster and the celebration of its first rising in late June or early July‑ marking the start of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar.
“For us, to celebrate Matariki meant spending time together and reflecting on those who have passed and joined the stars. So we have had a lot of conversations about that, resulting in some interesting questions from Bobby,” says Ash.
Work-Life balance on a sheep dairy farm
“The thing I like the most about this lifestyle and working for Southern Cross Dairy Sheep is that I can see the kids during the day. We are giving our family a unique experience that not everyone has, and the children grow up seeing firsthand where their milk and food comes from. From the paddock to the plate,” says Scotty.
Southern Cross Dairy Sheep and Maui Milk support a work-life balance and value the importance of family which Scotty says aligns with his and Ash’s values.
Ash said that particularly during lockdown, having 700 Hectares in your bubble meant that the kids hardly noticed the effects of the pandemic. She could take them out for walks and go and say hi to the sheep and the Herefords on the farm. If Bobby had been stuck inside due to the weather for a couple days, he could go with Scotty to feed the sheep. “Bobby particularly enjoys commanding/instructing the working dogs,” says Ash.
Ash’s role on the farm is largely admin based working an average of 10-15 hrs a week for Southern Cross Dairy Sheep. If they are ever short on staff or an extra pair of hands is required, provided the kids have someone who is watching them, Ash is first to chip in and has helped with herd testing and lamb rearing. Her main activities include managing the accounts, HR support, and assisting Scotty with Health and Safety requirements, as well as emails and calls while he is otherwise occupied on farm. When they were calving cows, the couple had one son. Now with the two boys, Ash says her expectations of being out in the sheds more with their placement at Waikino has had to be adjusted—raising two young and energetic boys has meant this is not always possible. Bobby is three years old and Māia is one.
There was one-time last season during lambing where Ash went to help feed lambs and Māia wasn’t walking yet. There was a clean pen of sawdust where the team were working and Ash thought she could place the boys safely in there while she helped feed some lambs. A few minutes into her first task, she turned around and Bobby had covered Māia in sawdust! “The sawdust was everywhere,” says Ash. So her plan clearly wasn’t working and she abandoned her mission.
Bringing sheep dairy nutrition to the world
“As one of 14 sheep milk supply farms to Maui Milk, it’s pretty cool knowing that what we’re doing here has a positive impact on the health and wellness of so many people,” says Scotty. Our premium sheep milk is used all over the world for infant formula, nutritional powders, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products.
Scotty says his first goal since starting with the company about a year ago was to improve milk production at Waikino Station, a goal that he and his team have now achieved and can build on in the seasons to come. While Southern Cross sheep genetics contribute extensively to the volume of milk ewes produce, the holistic and sustainable approach to farming, animal welfare, living environment and nutritious natural feed all play a part.
The next goal, says Scotty, is making sure the animals at Waikino Station continue to showcase their genetic potential. One of the ways to achieve this is to make sure they are being fed right so they can produce the most wholesome product possible. There is a lot that goes into looking after pasture and this team are well versed in getting this right.