Craggy Range Sheep Dairy Farm – Havelock North Q&A

What motivated you to establish a sheep milking enterprise? James is originally from Auckland, however has traveled extensively and worked in a variety of industries from deep-sea fishing to cattle ranching and Sales and Marketing; Kate is from a 3rd generation sheep farming family from Mid-Canterbury with a Nursing and Sales Management background.
Their 2 children Theo (11) and Lily (9) were born on Waiheke and attended local kindies and Waiheke Primary in their early years. Living on Waiheke from 2008 to 2017, they wanted to create a business that would allow them to “add to the table and as such the community” and decided on cheese so they created the Waiheke Island Cheese Company (WICC). James completed a course at the NZ Cheese School in 2009 and gained an Artisan cheesemaking qualification. This began their cheese journey. They decided that sheep were the only logical animal to attempt to milk on Waiheke and Kate had some experience of course raising sheep although only for meat/wool, never for milking.
Through an old friend of James’ from his younger days in the NZ Rodeo scene, they acquired their first small mob of 4 ewes, were grateful for the loan of a Ram from Cable Bay Farms and began milking with a very small hand pump and experimenting with making products at home. Alongside this they had 5 types of sheep cheese contract made for them which they bought back to Waiheke and matured and flavoured. They spent many years selling their products at the Saturday market as well as in several retail outlets and restaurants on the Island. In addition to cheese, they were also involved in a sheep yoghurt brand “Hipi” (Māori for Sheep) which was sold nationwide in supermarkets.
Alongside WICC, James and Kate have run other businesses on Waiheke, they lived on Church Bay Road and owned The Treehouse Accommodation Bookabach Batch of the Year 2016; they owned a Silver Shadow Rolls Royce which was used as a wedding car. James also spent a couple of successful years in Real Estate for Bayleys.
With a firm desire to pursue their passion in the Sheep Dairy Industry, the Clairmont’s made a move to Hawke’s Bay in 2017 where they bought 180 acres on the Craggy Range outside Havelock North. They then went to work building a 10 stall herringbone sheep dairy shed and in their first two seasons they milked 100 ewes and this year almost 200 – and have engaged the nearby team at Hohepa Farms to make their cheese and yoghurt. They currently make a Blue, Pecorino, Manchego, Danbo, Feta and Halloumi cheese with the Blue and Pecorino claiming Gold Medals at the NZ Cheese Awards this year and a Silver for the Feta.
What have been the benefits of this work/lifestyle for your family?
Ultimately we’re in charge of our destiny being self employed and we love the opportunities and advantages of bringing our children up in the country. Due to our location they have the best of both worlds being so close to a great range of schools and facilities in Hawke’s Bay. The sheep milking industry is going from strength to strength right now for obvious reasons so it is extremely exciting for us to be a part of this movement.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Fundamentally it would be having a dream and having the constant determination and drive to see it through. As others know it is challenging setting up your own farming business, and 10 years ago there still wasn’t a lot of sheep milking around, we took a punt and kept going so we’re very proud to be where we are today with a fully operational business, making great award-winning cheeses and getting ready to upscale and grow bigger.
What challenges have you faced along the way – or face at present?
Over time we’ve faced many challenges and had to take some different directions with our business but we’ve always been determined to own our own farm and be milking ourselves – which we’ve worked hard to achieve. In the current climate Covid of course, has provided its challenges in the marketplace, particularly hitting the hospitality industry and creating uncertainty – so going forward we have to keep monitoring the situation and adjust our production and planning accordingly.
Have you detected any shift in attitudes towards sheep milking?
Yes absolutely! Over the last 10+ years we have been involved in milking sheep. We are really seeing an increase in exposure and growth within the industry, it’s fantastic to see. There remains in NZ still a lot of room for education of the public around sheep milk however both the environmental and health benefits of sheep milking make for a compelling story in a market where those factors are increasingly important. We also acknowledge the positive contribution of the increase in sheep milking genetics in NZ, and the breeding of sheep to suit our climate and to increase yield has had within the industry.
Any future plans or prospects?
Always! Firstly upsizing the milking shed from milking 10 to milking 20 at a time as well as working hard on genetics and production of the ewes. Ideally, also we would look to be making some product on the farm within the next couple of seasons.
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