SOUTHERN CROSS™ GENETICS
Harnessing our Southern Cross™ dairy sheep technology
Our Waikino Station farm is home base for Maui Sheep Milk New Zealand's genetics programme. The programme utilises Southern Cross™ dairy sheep technology incorporating the world’s leading dairy genetics, to develop ewes that are optimised for sheep milk supply in New Zealand conditions.
If there’s a single place in the world that sheep would call home, it would be New Zealand.
We’ve long been famous for having more sheep than people on these islands of ours. With our rolling fields, fresh air, the world’s best pasture, and farmers who know how to work the land and care for their animals, this is where sheep belong.
Prior to 2017, virtually every sheep milked in New Zealand had descended from a small shipment of East Friesians that arrived in 1992.
Thousands of offspring were bred but efforts to apply selection pressure failed because the gene pool was too small, and importation of new ovine germplasm was banned due to biosecurity concerns.
Import protocol established
In 2015, Maui Sheep Milk geneticists Jake Chardon and Peter Gatley took up the challenge. They created pure East Friesians from embryos that had been frozen since the 1990s, then used the rams to create a Coopworth hybrid. Jake and Peter secured Awassi rams to cross with the East Friesian ewes. Working with MPI, they created an import protocol and were able to bring in new East Friesian bloodlines in the form of embryos from the UK. Finally their ambitions came to fruition and they had the opportunity to import frozen semen from progeny tested French Lacaune sires to New Zealand, for Maui Sheep Milk.
The Lacaune breed was developed to support the extensive and popular sheep dairy industry in France, a country known for their Roquefort cheese. The French farmer-owned cooperative breeding initiative runs the only large-scale scientific sheep dairy genetic programme in the world and the breeding objective was a good match with our requirements for yield, components, milk quality and functional udders.
Sheep Milk genetics programme established
In 2015, Maui Sheep Milk purchased the Waikino Station farm, on the shores of Lake Taupo, and converted it to a dairy sheep operation. We created a seasonal pastoral farm system, built a French internal rotary milking platform, cultivated an extensive area of lucerne for grazing and silage making, and established a unique genetics breeding programme to support our mission.
The first shipment of Lacaune semen landed in New Zealand just in time for laparoscopic Artificial Insemination in autumn 2017. In spring 2018 the progeny were milked as hoggets and immediately proved their value. Since then, new bloodlines have been imported every year.
The breeding objective for the programme is efficient conversion of pasture into profit. This is a direct match with that of New Zealand’s dairy cattle industry which combines the most important traits with economic weighting to produce a Breeding Worth (BW) index.
A hybrid needed for New Zealand conditions
Experience with all four breeds over several years had convinced the Maui Sheep Milk genetics team that the best combination for our all-outdoor seasonal pastoral farm system is a hybrid breed combining the dairy traits of the Lacaune, with the mothering ability and hardiness of the Coopworth.
Genetic diversity and heterosis (hybrid vigour) offer benefits that reflect those identified in New Zealand’s bovine dairy industry where Jake and Peter have plenty of experience with the Kiwicross which has become, by far, the most popular breed of dairy cow.
Sheep milk: Science supporting industry growth
New Zealand grass-fed systems are unique. How does that influence the nutrition and health properties of our milk? New knowledge has been developed specifically for the New Zealand dairy sheep industry. Head to the AgResearch page to learn more.
Introducing the Southern Cross™
The Southern Cross™ created by our genetics programme is now registered as a new breed by the NZ Sheep Breeders Association.
Mature ewes typically weigh about 75 kgs and lamb at about 170% which maximises twinning. They produce 300-400 litres of milk in a lactation of 200-240 days.
Maui Milk suppliers have easy access to new Southern Cross™ rams every season which assures them of genetic gain and genetic diversity. Teams of sires are leased so that farmers get the latest genetics and a good ram-to-ewe ratio. Sire selection ensures that inbreeding is avoided, and farmers do not have to manage rams on their properties outside the mating season.
Contact our genetics team
Fill in the form and a member of our Maui Sheep Milk genetics programme team be in touch soon.