By Toni Williams
A boutique sheep milking operation on the edge of Ashburton is making cheese while the sun shines.
Hipi Cheese, owned and operated by Jacy and Allan Ramsay, of Ashburton, started more than four years ago as they worked through their sheep milking processes.
Their first milking was in November 2017.
The couple, who both work other jobs, have a micro-farm block of just under two hectares which stocks 24 mostly East Friesian milking ewes but in the past few seasons has included Dairymead genetics with “a dash of Awassi”.
The milk is naturally A2.
It’s an ideal stocking number for the size of the land, and to ensure udder health remains at optimum levels with no somatic cell count issues.
Some of the white ewes are closer to pets as many of the ewes accept regular hand feeding, especially if it’s maize, like lollies to sheep.
They are easily identified through their markings, or personalities, such as curious four year old Mickey, or the fearless Cassianna, or the cheeky Black Witch.
“They are not really pets because they work hard producing good milk for us,” Jacy says.
The couple, along with help from son Hamish, 10, are nearing the end of their lambing season; it started on September 8, and traditionally has a narrow 17 to 20-day window.
Eight of the ewes were expecting triplets, and the rest twins, but there were a surprise set of quadruplets.
They have shorn most of the mob, with just two younger ewes who have kept their wool.
Shearing sheep in winter is like turning on the eating switch, which helps to develop bigger lambs, Allan says.
Once born the lambs stay with their mothers to get a good start and, depending on their future, may be kept, sold as pets, or sold to other breeders.
“After a week or so we take them off mum for a few hours before we milk then they go back together for the rest of the day and night,” Jacy says.
“While they are off their mums I bottle feed any that want a feed and introduce meal.
“It is a gentle weaning process that results in our lambs being pretty friendly.”
Allan says sheep can be lambing as a one year old but they need to be a live-weight of around 50kgs.
Most of the adult ewes weigh around 70 to 75kgs.
Jacy and Allan have spent the past few years getting established with their sheep stock and processes.
They run the sheep, milk them, then process the milk for cheese themselves.
It’s a path that has come from knowing people in the industry, and making the most of the opportunity.