Allan and Toni Browne are “career sheep farmers” on their family’s combined 570-hectare property near Cambridge in the Waikato.
But a few years ago they began to diversify and move into dairy sheep milking.
“We have about 450 cows but dairying is still new to us as a business,” Allan said.
“We became interested in dairy sheep because we had some skills, land and experience which led us on to look at it a bit more seriously.”
In 2018, they leased some Southern Cross Dairy rams from Maui Sheep Milk to set up their dairy sheep operation.
“It was more about access to the new European genetics to be able to produce more milk than anything else in the country. To extract the value out of those genetics we needed to have a milking parlour that could do that for us.”
They decided a rotary system was needed to milk 1200 sheep in the first season with scope to move up to 2000 later on.
Waikato Milking Systems stood out as the preferred supplier because it could design and manufacture the new plant locally, in the same region as the Browne’s farm.
Another bonus was knowing that service and support would never be too far away, Allan said.
The 70-bail Ultimo Internal Sheep Rotary was a prototype for the company.
“We knew it was a novel design for Waikato Milking Systems but we took them for their word, that they were going to deliver for us, and they have.”
The Brownes worked with Waikato Milking Systems Small Ruminants Specialist Andy Geissmann on the concept and installation.
The rotary system was constructed from stainless steel which means its longevity was a key point of difference compared to other sheep rotary systems. Rubber mats fitted to the deck ensure the animals are comfortable at milking time.
The platform’s bolt down option means there is minimal pre-concrete work needed at installation, which speeds up the process.
It’s an internal platform which means the operator is standing inside the rotary and can easily observe all of the sheep, all of the time.
Allan said Covid-19 inflicted some delys but the new parlour was completed in June, training of the farm’s hoggets began in July and milking started in August.
The rotary was “cranking out” between 600 to 700 sheep an hour, with three staff used during the milking process.
“I can see that once the sheep are fully educated about how to use the rotary, we’ll be able to reduce labour from three to two people.”
The Ultimo rotary is fitted with ECR-S (automatic cup removers) technology. Firsty, the cups can be set to come off if the milk flow drops below a certain level. Secondly, the cups can be set to come off at a preset time after milking starts.
Allan said the farm is supplying milk to Maui Milk and the new milking parlour gave the farm scope to expand in the future.
“It has been a bit of a journey, from gaining access to the European genetics for our sheep, breeding, construction of the new parlour through to the first tanker collection,” Allan said.