The goal of Maui Milk is to breed and milk a superior hybrid dairy sheep specifically suited to New Zealand conditions. There are potential benefits for individual suppliers, and also for New Zealand exports.
• High value
• Stability in farmgate payout
• Environmental sustainability
Maui Milk currently has two farms on the western shores of Lake Taupo. One farm has been milking sheep since 2007. The other was converted in 2017. We have around 5000 ewes milking on a diet of lush grass and clover, lucerne and plantain. Our focus is lifting productivity to create a system to serve as a template for others who would like to milk sheep.
Maui Milk will provide access to genetics and knowledge for farmers interested in converting to become suppliers.
Maui Milk Ltd is a joint venture partnership between Maui Food Group Ltd, a Shanghai-based marketing company and Waituhu Kuratau Trust, who started milking sheep in 2007 and pioneered the industry in the region.
The Maui Milk suppliers are running two different farming systems. This is done to give the company a view of the contrasting systems to gain experience on what works best in the New Zealand environment. We envision that both systems will have their role in the industry in New Zealand.
Waituhi Kuratau Trust (WKT):
Ewes are grazed year-round on ryegrass/clover, lucerne and plantain. All ewes are lambed outside. Lambs are hand reared. Specially formulated sheep pellets are fed in the milking parlour.
Ewes are grazed outside but the farm has the capacity to house the stock in two purpose-built barns for protection from the elements. These barns have state of the art feeding systems with conveyors. Ewes are lambed in the barns and the lambs are hand reared in a specially designed facility which features indoor/outdoor pens for small groups of about 40.
The Maui Milk genetic programme is particularly strong. Genes from the leading northern hemisphere dairy sheep breeds are being used to create a composite with genetic diversity and hybrid vigour. This new breed is known as the “Southern Cross™”. The programme has been set up by Geneticist, Jake Chardon (ex global CEO of Holland Genetics) and General Manager, Peter Gatley (ex GM Genetics for Livestock Improvement Corporation). In addition to their experience breeding dairy cattle, Jake and Peter created Deer Improvement, New Zealand’s leading supplier of genetics for venison producers. Jake also consults on breeding for the dairy goat industry.
Until recently, the NZ sheep milk industry has been dependent on East Friesian genes imported by Dr Jock Allison in the 1990s. The last remaining pure EF embryos were purchased from Dr Allison in 2015 and provided the base for our nucleus herd. New EF bloodlines have since been imported from the UK. Awassi genes have been contributed by five rams sourced directly from the Saudi-owned operation in Hawkes Bay. Lacaune genetics have been supplied by the breeding co-operative at the centre of the French dairy sheep industry. Semen was supplied by 45 sires in the first importation and over 2000 surgical inseminations were carried out at Waikino Station in 2017.
The breeding goal is efficient conversion of pasture into milk, and incorporates all economically important traits, especially milk volume, component percentage, udder conformation, temperament, and longevity.
All ewes are fed a balanced diet which involves pasture and crops, and supplement designed by a specialist nutritionist. Lucerne plays a big role as it delivers high protein and energy throughout the lactation, even when it gets dry later in the season. It also makes excellent silage which can be fed outside or in the barns.
The 80 bale external rotary at the WKT farm was adapted using dairy goat technology in 2007. It involves two entries and exits, so each ewe only does a half rotation. Milk let-down is quick and three minutes is all that is required. The system is effective in terms of throughput, but not as labour efficient as the new operation at Waikino.
The 64 bale rotary at Waikino is purpose built for sheep and imported from France. The plant includes automatic cup removers, electronic in-line milk meters and an automated backing gate. The milking platform has been designed with not only the sheep but also the milk harvester in mind. The adjustable height platform in the pit ensures comfort and ergonomic efficiency for the milker.
Farmers interested to learn more about the system with a view to potential conversion are invited to contact our General Manager Peter Gatley at the following address: