A bio-economic feasibility study of dairy sheep systems in Canterbury

This research study outlines the investigative process to determine relevant factors initiating a change from conventional sheep farms to sheep dairy farms on the Canterbury plains and the potential of a sheep milking industry developing with regard to current environmental restraints. It addresses the current issues in Canterbury regarding the trend towards dairy farming on the plains and the impact this is having on the environment. Water use, quality and management are key components, concerning waste management and nitrate leaching. Regulations on irrigation and nutrient leaching is a primary concern for farmers in the region. Cows have a high environmental foot print and urine patches are a source of high N loading to pastures which can leach into ground water. A brief evaluation of the sheep meat and wool industry has been touched on to gauge how farmers are coping in the current environment and to provide an indication of motives which have initiated a shift from sheep farming to sheep dairying. Sheep milking in New Zealand is a very small industry and literature on production is limited therefore the review touches on the potential the industry has, given changing global demographics and the demand for protein products. The method utilised to study a range of sheep milking systems is a quantitative normative approach based on the collation of research material with the aim to draw positive conclusions. Computer modelling tools have been used to simulate the set-up of a sheep milking scenarios in Canterbury and provide an insight into the expected performance. Results between systems have been compared and also contrasted with a traditional sheep farming model. The scenarios provide an indication of the variety of systems possible which incorporate the milking of sheep. The major varying factors are the lamb weaning treatments. The overall outcome of the study is that given an industry presence in the region, sheep milking in Canterbury is a feasible farming operation which is gentler to the environment than cow dairy counterparts.