Business Rural North Spring 2020

8 | RURAL PEOPLE » Astra Farms farmdairy? Call us today for a FREE on-site design consultation. Authorised licensee Herringbone or rotary Silage bunkers Feed pads 021 780 477 07 889 6168 Don Chapman Waikato Ltd is your local specialist in farm design and construction. • Domestic • Commercial • Rural EFFICIENT - RELIABLE Excellent Service doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Phone Liam Carter 021 027 93832 • 07 871 8785 MASTER ELECTRICIANS S eeing the growth and opportunity associated with sheep milking convinced the Browne family that it’s an industry they wanted to invest in. The Browne family, consisting of Toni, Allan and their children David, Missy and Estee, all live and work together on Astra Farms, a combined 570 hectare property, 3km south of Cambridge. A mixture of flat, rolling and steep hill country, it’s home to a dairy platform milking 450 cows, a drystock operation, a number of race horses trained by David and his wife Emma-Lee, and now sheep milking. “There’s something here to keep everyone busy,” Allan laughs. Their sheep milking venture began back in December 2018 when they got confirmation from Maui Sheep Milk to lease some of their Southern Cross Dairy rams which are Maui’s own breed developed from a mixture of east friesian, awassi and lacaune sheep, “from there it was a matter of building a shed and setting the whole thing in mo- tion,” explains Allan. The aim this year is to milk 1000 ewes and increase that to 1600 over the next three years and they’re already off to a good start in their first season putting 400 ewes through the shed in 40 minutes. “The volume and quality of the milk is looking promising already,” says Allan. They’ve committed their milk supply to Maui but for the meantime, until they get their milk volume up, they are supplying to local cheese makers. “It was great seeing the first lot of milk leave the property.” Allan says it’s been a steep learning curve and there’s still a long way to go but the first lot of sheep through the shed handled it a lot better than he expected. They began training their hoggets through the shed in July and milking began in Au- gust. To uphold body condition on the hoggets Allan says they will dry them off earlier for this season towards the end of February. The shed, which was completed earlier this year, Sheep milking underway on diverse Natalia Rietveld was designed and built by Waikato Milking Systems. It’s a novel design, and it’s clear to see why the sheep have taken to it so easily. The 70-bail internal sheep rotary milking system is a one-of-a-kind fully automated shed designed specifically for Astra Farms. The shed incorporates ECR-S technology and electronic cup removers as well as head locks that securely hold the animals on the platform while they milk. In-bail feed is also a feature enticing the animals into the stall and keeping them relaxed throughout the milking process. Watching the animals move in and out is seamless. While the shed has been a big investment, Allan says that is not all that needs to be done to make it a successful operation. “There is quite a bit of refer- encing to do but currently we aren’t sure what mob sizes we are going to use, which will determine the paddock sizes, so we will wing it through this year and when we dry off we will sort that all out. I don’t want to make all my paddocks 1 ½ hectares and then realise they should have been 2ha,” he explains. It’s still very early days but everyone is looking forward to the opportunities this venture could pre- sent and Allan says like on their dairy platform he hopes when the industry sees some maturity there may be sharemilkers willing to jump on board. “The volume and quality of the milk is looking promising already... it was great seeing the first lot of milk leave the property.” Astra Farms’ first season of sheep milking is underway and they’re already seeing promising results.