AgResearch studies could help NZ sheep milk industry

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

AgResearch scientists are working on boosting the sheep milk industry in New Zealand through their research. Photo: iStock - pichitstocker
AgResearch scientists are working on boosting the sheep milk industry in New Zealand through their research. Photo: iStock - pichitstocker

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The second Sheep Milk NZ industry conference was held in Palmerston North, New Zealand recently, with more than 200 people attending.

AgResearch scientists presented the initial results from two years of research from the $4.1m (NZ$6m) Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)-funded program “Boosting exports of the emerging dairy sheep industry,” ranging from composition of New Zealand sheep milk through to best practice effluent management.

“New Zealand’s dairy sheep systems are unique to us, and we have the natural advantages of our year-round pasture-based farming. We need to establish the particular qualities and advantages our systems produce,”​ said research leader and AgResearch research scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson.

“If we are to make claims about the benefits of New Zealand sheep milk, we need the data to back it up.”

Research shows differences

Differences established so far include research by Marita Broadhurst, who analyzed 500 milk samples collected at different times of year over three years.

 It shows that, on average, New Zealand sheep milk has higher levels of protein and twice the fat of cow’s milk, with high levels of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.

Dr Wayne Young and Dr Linda Samuelsson’s work shows sheep and cow milk cause different effects on gastrointestinal physiology in rats.

“We also observed that rats fed sheep milk required less solid food than rats given raw cow milk to maintain the same level of growth. This supports the view that sheep milk is an excellent source of nutrition,”​ said Young.

Feed and nutrition

Other goals for the research include optimizing feed and nutrition systems and developing criteria to ensure environmental sustainability of sheep dairying in New Zealand.

Dr Sue McCoard presented research showing early weaning (from four weeks instead of the standard weaning of six weeks) can increase milk yield without compromizing pre-weaning or post-weaning growth rates.

MBIE national manager biological industries Max Kennedy says research is integrated across on and off farm and brings together New Zealand expertise, including Callaghan Innovation and the University of Otago.

“This is the beginning of the New Zealand dairy sheep story and how New Zealand sheep milk is different to the sheep milk in the rest of the world. This is research to enable us to create that early New Zealand brand story,”​ Kennedy said.

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