Thursday, 05 September 2019 09:55

Suppliers needed as milk demand surges

Written by  Pam Tipa
Danone’s new sheep milk baby formula. Danone’s new sheep milk baby formula.

Maui Milk is seeking new suppliers of sheep milk located within two hours of Hamilton for a new supply agreement with Danone.

Milk from free range, grass fed dairy sheep is now supplied by Maui Milk to Danone from its two farms running 6000 ewes on the western shores of Lake Taupo.

The company is offering multi-year contracts to new conversions in greater Waikato with the aim of doubling milk volume next season.

Danone-owned Nutricia, a global leader in specialised nutrition, last month launched Karicare Toddler Sheep Milk formulation, its first such product and a significant step for the New Zealand sheep dairy industry. 

The Karicare brand is a leader in Australia and New Zealand, says Nutricia.

The Maui supplied milk is processed at Innovation Park in Hamilton.

Maui Milk chief executive Peter Gatley says there is interest from sheep and beef farms around Taupo, Rotorua and King Country, but mostly from Waikato dairy operations. 

“Comparison with a typical Waikato dairy farm shows a better return per hectare, especially on smaller farms in the 50-80 ha range,” he said. 

“The system is all grazing, no barns are required and the lactation is shorter than for cows. A lot of farmers are also attracted because the environmental footprint is similar to traditional sheep and beef farming.

“Conversion from dairy cattle is low cost and we are offering multi-year contracts at a payout equivalent to $3/L. We can supply pregnant ewes during winter so a farm can dry off the cows in autumn and be milking sheep in spring.”

Maui Milk was formed five years ago to satisfy demand for alternative milks, particularly in Asia where many people find cow milk hard to digest. 

The company highlights the natural advantages of sheep milk which contains much higher levels of most nutrients than either cow or goat milk. 

Maui chairman Peter McGilvary explains that whole milk powder sold under the Maui Milk brand was a stepping stone during the establishment phase and an expanded product range was always expected. 

“The opportunity to supply the early childhood nutrition market is exciting,” said McGilvary.  “The educated, affluent consumer wants grass fed dairy for their children and they focus strongly on environmental sustainability and animal welfare.” 

Gatley says the company has made huge strides in farm productivity improvement. 

“Progress has been spectacular. Until recently it was impossible to breed a modern dairy sheep in NZ because the genetics simply did not exist here. That all changed when we imported semen and embryos from Europe. 

“Sheep can milk as yearlings and they have multiple offspring. 

“We’re making 50 years progress in about five years.” 

McGilvary says the company is working on complementary products to sell under its own brand and is buoyant about the prospects. 

“Whatever form the product takes, we see grass fed sheep milk as the perfect fit for ‘brand NZ’. It’s what we’re famous for -- grass, sheep and milk.”

For Nutricia, its toddler sheep milk product innovation responds to growing demand among consumers in Australia and NZ for toddler formulas based on alternative sources of milk, such as goat and sheep milk. 

“As consumer preferences continue to evolve it’s important that we, as market leader in Australia and New Zealand, are able to cater accordingly. Also, this launch is an opportunity to serve other consumers with similar tastes in the region, and who value NZ’s renowned agricultural and sheep farming heritage and the country’s natural environment. 

“Plus, through this launch we’re supporting our local dairy sheep farms,” said John Hoare, sales director at Nutricia ANZ.

The milk for the launch of Karicare Toddler Sheep Milk is sourced from Maui’s two farms.

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

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The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

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