Flavoured sheep milk wows judges

Flavoured sheep milk wows judges
PHOTOS: Fernglen Farm Sheep Milk vanilla flavour won a silver medal at the Outstanding NZ Food Producers Awards; Look out for Fernglen Farm Sheep Milk’s new product label being released soon.

Now 21 years old, Cameron Ravenwood grew up on a traditional sheep and beef farm near Riverdale Beach in the Wairarapa.
In 2015, when he was in his last year of school his father showed him a small article he’d cut out of the newspaper discussing the merits of sheep milk.
What grabbed Cameron’s attention, apart from the supposed benefits of the milk, was that it was fetching a whopping $18 kg of milk solids.
He already had a big interest in sport and nutrition and the more research he did the more boxes sheep milk ticked.
Fast forward four years and the Ravenwood’s Fernglen Farm Sheep Milk vanilla flavour has just won a Life & Leisure silver medal at the Outstanding New Zealand Food Producers Awards.
Thanks to the feedback they’ve been getting they’re changing their labeling from pushing the protein performance side of the product to the sheep milk from a family farm aspect.
“We weren’t too sure how consumers were going to react to sheep milk,” says Cameron, “ but now since we’ve done food shows and tastings and a lot of surveys on our label we realize that a lot of people are really interested in the sheep milk side of it, as well as the healthy side of it so we want to capture that going forward.”
The claim to be a healthy product is backed up by the composition of the sheep milk which is higher in most if not all of the macro and micro nutrients found in cows’ milk, Cameron says.
“Sheep milk has double the protein, double the calcium, 40% higher magnesium, 30% higher phosophorus, the B complex are all higher, and then the three key amino acids for muscle recovery and growth: valine, leucine, and iso-leucine are found in double the concentration in sheep milk versus cow’s milk, which is a big point from an athlete’s point of view.
“It stacks up with digestibility as well because it only contains A2 betacasein which seems to be easier to digest and the fatty chain acids are all short to medium chain which are much faster to digest as well.”
Jeff and Shirley Ravenwood bought the family sheep and beef farm 23 years ago with 528 hectares effective and another 560 hectares of native bush and pine trees.

Flavoured sheep milk wows judges
PHOTOS: Cameron Ravenwood keeps an eye on the sheep during milking.

Since the initial idea of sheep milking came up in 2015 they’ve converted 60-odd hectares of the best flat country on their farm.
“That’s about a one kilometre of radius around the new sheep milking shed we built with a 24 aside rapid-exit herringbone, and we upgraded the laneways through there, so now we have the potential to milk up to 800 ewes,” explains Cameron.
They’re big on the environment as well as their animal welfare and ethical farming practices.
“The bigger operators wean their lambs to the bottle at two days old but we leave the lambs on mum for 30 days until they’re old enough to travel, then we share milk from 30 – 55 or 60 days before we wean the lambs onto grass. We sacrifice a lot of milk but the lambs get a good start to life which is a big part of the mix for us.”
It took four years from that first gem of an idea to the first product run earlier this year.
Jeff and Shirley backed the concept with investment into Masterton based Kingsmeade Cheese, who process sheep milk into cheeses.
Going into partnership with them allowed for the upgrade of the plant for what they needed to be able flavour the milk and put it into the recyclable 450ml plastic PET1 bottles you can find on the shelves.
“We only use recycled bottles now,” says Cameron, “they’re a bit more expensive but it all helps with the environmental footprint.”
Jeff and Shirley run the farm day-to-day with some help from Cameron’s older brother Ben (25) when he’s not busy with his Masters looking into the benefit of sheep milk for muscle recovery.
Big sister Baeley (24) did an Honours Degree in AgScience at Massey.
She’s currently working at PGG Wrightson in Christchurch and lending her expertise by working on the best pasture cultivars they can grow for a feed plan to keep the ewes in good shape while they’re being milked all year round.
Cameron’s combining his study at Lincoln doing a Masters in Global Agribusiness with around 40 hours a week running the business side of things.
The plan is to have Fernglen Farm Sheep Milk available in all three flavours of chocolate, vanilla and coffee in every main area of New Zealand, ideally in a supermarket, by next year.
Long term they want to be earning as much per hectare as the average cow dairy farmer with a significantly smaller environmental footprint.
As Cameron explains it’s turning into a really nice family business which they hope to grow to allow other farmers into.
My dream behind it is to de-stress farming essentially. Growing up Mum and Dad would consistently improve their on-farm production but wouldn’t always get higher profits because of the commodity fluctuation.
“For me that was really frustrating so I want to be able to fix the price essentially, so that means being in the value-added space. We want to balance demand with supply as best we can to make sure the value of the product stays there and we keep a stable price at the farm gate.”
With sales building nicely they look like they’re well on track to achieve their goals.
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