Tuesday, 10 November 2020 08:55

Diversifying into goat, sheep milking all about stability

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Ex-All Black Kevin Schuler milks cows, goat and sheep on their farms in Te Aroha. Ex-All Black Kevin Schuler milks cows, goat and sheep on their farms in Te Aroha.

Former All Black Kevin Schuler says diversifying the family farm with his brother Paul into three milking systems – cows, goats and sheep – is all about creating a better and stable business.

Higher payouts for goat and sheep milk, a lower farm environmental footprint, and the creation of smaller, efficient farming units prompted Schuler Brothers Ltd (SBL) to look beyond cows.

SBL owns a 236ha (215 effective) farm in Te Aroha West, which started as a small farm bought nearly 100 years ago by Schuler’s grandfather who came from Switzerland. Over time, five other neighbouring farms were acquired for milking cows.

At its peak, the farm milked 850 cows; today it milks 350 cows, supplying Fonterra. Seven years ago, the farm invested in dairy goats, now peak milking 1400 goats and supplying Dairy Goat Cooperative Ltd in Hamilton.

This year, the business decided to dip its toes in sheep milk.

From late August, 640 ewes have been milked in what was an old cow herringbone shed. It now boasts a new Rapid Exit Milking System fitted by Waikato Milking Systems.

Kevin says the company spent around $500,000 on the conversion which included the shed conversion, fencing new paddocks and sheep proofing existing paddocks, races, town water supply, effluent system, and sheep handling facilities.

While the conversion project was delayed due to Covid-19, the ewes have been milking for over a month now and Kevin is pleased with how things are going.

“We aren’t too worried about the milk yield this year, we know there will be good genetic advancement and longer lactation going forward,” he told Dairy News.

“Next year will be a more normal year for the sheep milking operation and that will be a real measure of our success.”

Maui Milk, which takes sheep milk from the farm, is paying its suppliers $17/kgMS. Kevin says that is an outstanding payout.

He says the recent volatility around cow milk payout has created uncertainty for the dairy cow industry.

“We know what our costs are but we don’t know what Fonterra’s payout will be,” he says.

“One element we have sought around diversification is creating stability. We supply the Dairy Goat Co-op which has consistently delivered a strong payout. So this gives different strings to your bow.”

He notes that both Maui and DGC use milk for infant formula products rather than commodities.

“For us it’s about moving out of commodities; ultimately you get into business to have good cashflow and make profit.”

This year the Schuler Brothers farm has allocated 40ha for sheep, 70ha for goats and 105ha for cows. About 45ha of support land is used for growing maize and running young stock.

Kevin says being able to create smaller farms forms part of the succession plan for the family business.

“When we look at the future, we think there will be less buyers for big farms, and smaller 40 to 60ha farms will be more affordable and appealing. Sheep and goats make this scale of farm possible.

“If we decide to keep it in the family, that will be great but we will have no problems selling smaller efficient farms.”

The lower environmental footprint of goat and sheep milking is also a factor. 

“We love our cows but indications are there about the lower carbon footprint of goats and sheep and this puts you in a better space as well.”

Farm facts

Schuler Brothers Farm, milking:

❱❱ 350 cows

❱❱ 1400 goats

❱❱ 640 sheep

❱❱ 10 staff

More like this

Drenching - doing it right

Effective and accurate drenching is important for animal health and productivity. It needs strategic decision making and should be part of a parasite management plan.

Shedding Wiltshire's anti wool appeal

Of all the projects Massey University's School of Agriculture has been involved in over the years, it's never had such interest as it has in its Wiltshire breeding programme.

Trial for low methane sheep

Artificial breeding will play a role in accelerating the transition of a proportion of Beef + Lamb New Zealand's (B+LNZ) commercial ewe flock to a low methane emitting flock.

Sheep and dairy numbers fall

Climate change activists, who believe NZ is going to hell in a handcart due to the methane emissions from the country's livestock population, will be delighted to learn that these numbers have fallen dramatically.

National

Fieldays returns

After a hiatus of two years, National Fieldays opened to a grey foggy day in the Waikato, last Wednesday.

Machinery & Products

Major deal for AgriQuip

New Plymouth-based AgriQuip has been appointed as the exclusive importer and distributor of the Major Equipment brand, with the aim…

Giant stands tall on goat farm

A Dutch Giant is playing such an important role at Schuler Brothers' Te Aroha West goat farming operation that the…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

Name it and milk it

OPINION: University researchers in the UK believe that a cow will produce more milk if you give it a name.

No thanks!

OPINION: Auckland yoghurt maker The Collective claims it is the first New Zealand dairy yoghurt brand to offer a plant-based…

» Connect with Dairy News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter