Long-time Waikato dairy farmers Paul and Dianne White were looking for an opportunity for their two sons, Brad and Kieran, to enter the farming industry.
Paul and Dianne already had their youngest son, Andrew, contract milking on the home property. They wanted to diversify from the dairy and drystock operation as part of their family succession plan. “We looked at what opportunities were available on our existing land, or perhaps on a new property,” Paul said. “Then we discovered dairy sheep milking and started to investigate it a bit more.
The couple started their due diligence on setting up a dairy sheep operation. “We visited several sheep milking and breeding properties including Maui Milk in Taupō. “We worked out our budgets and our cash flow and it ticked many boxes for us, like profitability, environmental impact. It looked like a golden opportunity and very much like the way of the future.” The family didn’t want to convert their existing 520-cow dairy farm near Te Awamutu so went looking for a new property to base their dairy sheep venture.
They purchased Brian and Welwyn Meredith’s farm at Kio Kio, between Ōtorohanga and Te Awamutu. Shortly after, they signed a contract with Maui Milk to supply. The family already had a 44 aside Waikato Milking Systems plant built by dealer, Qubik, on their own dairy farm in Te Awamutu. “So we started to plan a Rapid Exit System for our new sheep property through Qubik again, and that led on to Waikato Milking Systems getting involved.”
Waikato Milking Systems Small Ruminants Specialist Andy Geissmann was able to lead the project to convert an existing 18 aside Herringbone cow parlour, to a 40 aside Agili Rapid Exit Sheep Milking System, the first of its kind for the company. That involved keeping the existing building but installing new plant equipment, technology and the new milking system. “There was a lot of learning involved as you can imagine. We had to convert the property, to make it suitable for sheep, as well as converting the shed. “Maui Milk has got a breeding property near Taupō and we bought our ewes, in-lamb, from them and they arrived on the property on June 8.”
Kieran and Brad worked in the corporate world at the time. Kieran as an analyst and Brad worked in rural banking. “Our sons quit their corporate jobs and put their efforts into the new farm. They are very much leading the farm now and I am in an advisory role.”
The new property, now called Green Park Sheep, is stocked with 850 sheep. The animals are getting used to using the new milking plant and Paul expects the efficiency levels to lift as time goes on. “There’s been a lot of learning about what works and what doesn’t. With Andy’s help, we’ve been able to shave an hour off milking and we’re getting about 500 through an hour. “I think that’s about where it will sit at the moment, using three staff at milking. In the near future, I reckon we’ll be able to do better, and get it down to just two people milking.”
The Milking Control Unit on the parlour automatically removes the clusters to help reduce labour time and increase efficiency. The User Switch at each cluster uses LED lights to signal the operator when milking has started or finished. The sheep enter the system in a single file, managed into their bails using a self-indexing gate system. As the lead animal turns to enter the first open bail, its body triggers the gate of the neighbouring bail to open, allowing the next animal to enter. The process continues until all of the stalls are occupied, making it an easy and fast way to load the animals into the milking system.
The big advantage of the plant is its Rapid Exit System which maximises throughput. The gate uses a pneumatic system, compressed air, to lift and close quickly, quietly and safely around the animals. The Rapid Exit Gate on the Green Park Sheep plant can be operated in two sections, which gives the operator the ability to release some of the animals, while keeping others in their bails. Paul said the milking parlour has been set up to allow the farm to expand in the future.
“We bought the property, it’s about 81 hectares, it was milking 200 cows. I think we can go up to 1200 ewes so I think the property has got a good up-side and a great future.” There’s been keen interest in the new system from neighbours who are waiting to see its results over the next few years.
Paul had some advice to offer other people thinking of switching from dairy cows to dairy sheep. “Do your planning well first because that will take away the stress later on. There is quite a lot of advice out there around dairy sheep, which surprised us. “Get involved with people you can rely on. The build, from Qubik, through to Waikato Milking Systems, all went to plan even with the disruptions of Covid-19.”