Sheep on a Landcorp farm.
Sheep on a Landcorp farm.

New Zealand’s largest corporate farm, Landcorp, is eyeing the sheep dairy world publicly. The state-owned diversified company made nearly 13,000 tons of milk solids, over 10,000 tons of sheep meat, nearly 3,000 tons wool, over 11,000 tons beef and over 2,000 tons of venison in the 2012/2013 fiscal year.

With 137 farms in New Zealand, spanning 376,942 hectares (931,444 acres, slightly smaller than Rhode Island), Landcorp owns 1.4% of New Zealand’s land base.

At a meeting last Tuesday, Landcorp CEO announced that sheep milk was being explored by the company. While New Zealand is now dominated by dairy, at its peak the country held 70.3 million sheep in 1982. Today, 31 million sheep remain, keeping it by far the “most numerous” farmed animal on the islands.

The market for sheep cheese would be the U.S., as it already imports about half the sheep milk cheese in the world. Globally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) estimates the global share of sheep milk at 1.4%.

Sheep milk contains more solids than cow milk. There are about 100 sheep milk farms in the U.S., but only two in New Zealand.

According to Rick Powdrell, meat and fiber vice-chair of New Zealand’s Federated Farmers’ cooperative, “In South East Asia, sheep milk accounts for 3.9% of milk production, in China it is 4.2% while in North Africa and the Middle East, it is 7.5%,” he told NZCity.

Sources: Radio NZ, Sheep 101