Scientists push sheep's milk as a dairy alternative at Fieldays

Erin Wells takes a drink from a sheep shake, on the menu at Fieldays 2017.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Erin Wells takes a drink from a sheep shake, on the menu at Fieldays 2017.

  

A collection of scientists want you to drink milk from a sheep's teat.

Sheep cheese, yoghurt and ice cream are already available in New Zealand stores, produced by 16 farms and some 30,000 ewes from Invercargill to Kerikeri.

AgResearch senior scientist Linda Samuelsson at the "Milk Baaa" stand at Fieldays 2017.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

AgResearch senior scientist Linda Samuelsson at the "Milk Baaa" stand at Fieldays 2017.

But New Zealanders are averse to the creamy milk, and the majority of the country's production goes to export. 

Scientists from Ag Research and Massey University were promoting sheep's milk at Fieldays 2017, encouraging passers by to try flavoured milk, cheese and yoghurt.

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The "Milk Baaa" was offering flavoured sheep's milk shakes to promote the product to New Zealanders, traditionally wary ...
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

The "Milk Baaa" was offering flavoured sheep's milk shakes to promote the product to New Zealanders, traditionally wary of milk from sheep.

AgResearch senior scientist Linda Samuelsson said, compared to cow's milk, it has more protein, minerals and fat. 

"Why not sheep's milk?," she said while handing out punnets of chocolate, banana and vanilla flavoured milk.

It's the dry season for sheep, so the milk is made from powder and somewhat thin. From the teat, it's said to be akin to 50/50 cream.

Punnets of flavoured sheep's milk.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Punnets of flavoured sheep's milk.

"It tastes like roast lamb," one girl says. I disagree, it's stronger in flavour than cow's milk, but not necessarily bad.

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Sheep's milk cheddar is sharp but largely similar to that dairy cow kind. The feta is not for the faint hearted; almost overwhelming taste. 

The yoghurt is sour and apparently helps with constipation.

Sheep's milk Farmers Jake Chardon and Peter Gatley of Maui Milk Limited.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Sheep's milk Farmers Jake Chardon and Peter Gatley of Maui Milk Limited.

AgResearch, Callaghan Innovation and Massey and Otago Universities are four years into a six year, $6.5 million research project on how to get more milk from a sheep.

"So far, we've seen that sheep's milk is digested differently from other kinds of milks," Samuelsson said.

It may be preferable for some people who struggle to keep down cow's milk, though sheep's milk has the same amount of lactose.

It is high in calcium and phosphorus, so potentially good for bone health.

And they are collecting data on the environmental impact, which is said to be less that of cow dairy farming.

All with the expressed purpose of getting more New Zealander's farming, and consuming, more sheep's milk.

"The milk is a conversation starter. We want to get people to try it, because a lot of New Zealanders think it tastes bad," Samuelsson said.

Sheep milk producer Peter Gatley, general manager of Maui Milk, said export will remain the predominant market for the milk as Kiwi culture is too hard to change.

There's plenty of advantages to farming sheep, they can be milked from one-year-old and breed faster than cattle.

He currently farms 3000 ewes on the western shore of Lake Taupo, and is starting a new farm of 2000 sheep.

The great challenge is catching up with overseas producers like Europe, which has been milking sheep 2000 years, he said.

Sheep in New Zealand produce between 120 to 150 litres of milk a season, whereas French sheep produce 400 a season.

He's recently brought in a new breed that should enhance production.

"Now that we've done that, we're in the race."

 - Stuff

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