New sheep milking parlour provides scope for future expansion
As “career sheep farmers” Allan and Toni Browne diversified into sheep milking a few years ago - recognising it as an emerging market that was showing keen demand and good returns.
While they also have about 450 cows on their family’s combined 570 hectare property near Cambridge in the Waikato, “dairying is still new to us,” says Allan. “We became interested in dairy sheep as a concept because we had some skills, land and experience available which led us to look at it more seriously.” In 2018 the couple leased some Southern Cross Dairy rams from Maui Sheep Milk to set up their dairy sheep operation and gain access to the new European genetics. “We knew using those genetics, we would be able to produce more milk than anything else in the country,” says Allan. To extract the most value from those genetics Allan and Toni needed a rotary milking parlour that could manage milking 1200 sheep in the first season, with the ability to increase to 2000 at a later date.
After approaching three major dairy technology companies, Waikato Milking Systems stood out as the preferred supplier because they could design and manufacture their new plant locally. “Another bonus was knowing that service and support would never be too far away if help was needed,” says Allan. The 70-bail Ultimo Internal Sheep Rotary they selected “was a novel prototype design” but they took Waikato Milking Systems “for their word that they were going to deliver for us - and they have.”
Working with Waikato Milking Systems Small Ruminants Specialist, Andy Geissmann, and their local dealer Qubik Te Awamutu from concept design and manufacturing through to construction, the new rotary parlour was commissioned in 2020.
Constructed from stainless steel, the system is built for longevity - a key point of difference when compared to other sheep rotary systems. And for animal comfort, rubber mats are fitted to the deck for the sheep to stand on during milking, which also reduces noise and stress for both the animals and the operator.
The internal platform also means the operator is standing inside the rotary so they can easily observe all of the sheep, all of the time. Allan says “It was exciting watching the new parlour come together” and the rotary was now “cranking out” between 600 to 700 sheep an hour, using three staff during the milking process. “The sheep grasped the concept of using the rotary after about half a dozen times, and I can see that once the sheep are fully educated on how to use the rotary - we’ll be able to reduce labour from three to two people at milking time.”
The Browne’s Ultimo Internal Sheep Rotary is fitted with ECR-S (automatic cup removers) technology to automate the milking process and reduce time spent in the parlour. The ECR-S can be set to remove the cups in two modes; if the milk flow drops below a certain level, and at a preset time after milking starts. Allan says the farm is supplying milk to Maui Sheep Milk, and “the new milking parlour has given the farm scope to expand in the future.”