NZ Dairy Summer 2021

4 | nzdairy For all your livestock cartage needs Proud to be associated with Fernglen Farm DAIRY PEOPLE » Fernglen Farm: Ravenwood family Family proud of farm’s SPCA certification Sue Russell When Jeff and Shirley Ravenwood were approached by their children to consider taking the family’s farming business into a new direction, the timing couldn’t have been better. Jeff and Shirley were nearing the stage where they needed to either step back from farming or realise a new potential from the property; they chose the latter, in the form of converting to a sheep milking enterprise 3 years ago. Fernglen Farm is located on Wairarapa’s East Coast and it’s 372 ha footprint is an idyllic potpourri of flat, terraced and hill country land. Then just 4km’s down the road is a separate farm of 420 ha; a mix of flat and hill country and a substantial block of retired native bush. Their two sons and daughter, Ben, Cameron and Baeley are right behind the departure to this new ‘adventure’ which has required navigating steep learning curves and a pioneering spirit. Cameron holds a Masters in Global-Agribusiness and Food Marketing from Lincoln University and, when completing his final study, based his research paper on the farm’s move to this new way of operating. Now back on the farm Cameron says the experience has injected a new enthusiasm into farming from the whole family. Fernglen Farm produces plain and flavoured homogenised/pasteurised sheep milk drinks and in the trialling phase of production when everything was very new, Cameron used his rugby teammates as pioneering consumer-testers. “We know there are many benefits that come from consuming sheep milk but there are also barriers to break down in the market about what the milk will taste and feel like, so I used to take bottles down to the rugby games for an after-match refresher for the team. Feedback was really good,” Cameron says. The wider-world got a sneak peak of Fernglen Farm’s sheep milk production when Country Calendar featured an episode late 2019 of the enterprise. “I have to say that my parents have been pretty good at seeing the potential turning to sheep milk production would add to the business. They had worked hard and got the farm to the place where there were few meaningful ways to add value from existing activity on the farm. These days diversification is really important.” While the sheep milking plant was relatively easy to procure Cameron says in the early days meeting compliance rules occupied a lot of his time. Ben is mainly involved in business development and the milk processing plant which is not far from the farm near Masterton, while sister Baeley helps on the farm and also helps with processing. Keen to get the message out about the benefits that come from drinking sheep milk the family like to present their offering at local food markets to give people a taste. Fernglen Farm Sheep Milk is also marketed through some New World Supermarkets and speciality health stores. While many find drinking cow’s milk irritating and unsatisfactory, Cameron says sheep milk’s natural composition of fats and proteins is far more palatable. “We’re even finding that some who have turned to plant-based milk products because of their intolerance to cows milk are turning to sheep milk and enjoying it.” Cameron says the sheep were for the most part very co-operative learning the new milking regime. When lambs are born they are kept with Mum until old enough to wean. Milk processed through the milking shed is only the surplus left over after the lambs have had their fill. While the ewes are being milked the lambs are in a holding paddock, waiting for milking to be over and ewe/lamb families to be reunited. Driving the move to sheep milk has been the whole family’s interest in producing products of high nutritional merit. To supply milk all year round, the flock of 1200 milking sheep is split into two groups, with lambing at spring and autumn. “For us it’s such a really neat thing to be delivering a high quality product that consumers gain real health benefits from.” Fernglen Farm is SPCA Animal Welfare certified, a recognition that the whole family is very proud of. “To gain that status it’s about demonstrating in all aspects of your farming practice that you are working holistically, with care of the animals and their environment. We are regularly audited to maintain this certification.” Jeff Ravenwood in the milking shed. Ben Ravenwood, Cameron Ravenwood and Baeley Butler. Fernglen is SPCA Animal Welfare certified .