We love our sheep.
We had been conventionally farming sheep and beef in the North Island for decades before deciding to move to Canterbury in 2005 to continue farm management and communication studies at Lincoln University. This eventually led to us both becoming lecturers there but the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes provided a new and unexpected opportunity to sell our damaged home in Christchurch and buy a rural block within the shadow of the magnificent Southern Alps at Charing Cross near Darfield. This gave us the opportunity to continue to work at Lincoln and pursue a long held dream to set up a boutique sheep dairy based on ethical principles and make wonderful sheep dairy products.
The initial plan was a joint venture with a Christchurch ice cream manufacturer to produce sheep milk ice cream but this has changed over time to be a more complete on-farm based ‘paddock to plate, ‘grass to glass’ adventure producing milk for cheesemakers, and our own products - fresh milk, yoghurt and fresh cheeses starting with Halloumi. We have parked the ice cream idea until next year.
From 2012, we have built up our farm infrastructure, developed our 200 ewe flock, built a dairy shed and an on-farm processing unit to produce legally compliant sheep dairy food products. It has been a real adventure and we have learned a lot.
Overwhelmingly, we have learned the importance of developing products that have the health of people, the sheep and the land at its heart. We are not organic because we need the option to use conventional animal health options if required but we farm using biological farming principles to grow soil microbial activity to support the ‘fruit salad’ pasture (mostly Lucerne, chicory, ryegrass, clover and plantain) our sheep, lovely as they are, are selective browsers and like a variety in their diet.
We start full production this season (2017) and we are really excited to make food from milk from animals farmed with high animal welfare standards, a unique milk with great nutritional qualities and in a pastoral system designed to have a low environmental footprint.
One of the lovely aspects of this adventure has been the community support we have had. In addition to our small farmlet, the sheep now graze a number of adjoining properties over the year. We see it as community farming, allowing a number of small holder to enjoy being part of our venture and benefitting from it.