Dannevirke: Stress-free sheep make best cheese

By Christine McKay

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Woodville's David Chapman gets up close and personal with one of the small flock of milking sheep he and partner Kirsty Silvester run at Wild Bush Cheese.
Woodville's David Chapman gets up close and personal with one of the small flock of milking sheep he and partner Kirsty Silvester run at Wild Bush Cheese.

David Chapman of Wild Bush Cheese in Woodville is adamant, if he doesn't know the name of all his sheep, the business has become too big.

David and partner Kirsty Silvester run their flock of milking sheep on 18 acres, producing handmade cheeses.

"In our first season we only had three sheep and two-thirds of our cheese we gave away," David said.

"This year we've made 300 kilograms of cheese and it's our aim to have a flock of between 50 and 60. When we first started, we thought people would laugh, but no one has, but we could never imagine we'd be doing this."

Describing himself as a sheep genealogist, David is the animal husbandry man on the small Woodville property and Kirsty the cheesemaker.

"I spend my time out in the paddock and I love the breeding side of the business. I've some New Zealand marsh sheep which will suit this wet area because they have good feet and are worm resistant.

They're the opposite of our East Friesian sheep, so I'm going to mix them up and call then Marshans."

And Woodville's wet climate has also caused a few headaches as the couple attempt to build a new milking shed.

"We'd had 250mm of rain in two weeks and the place was sodden. There was a moat around the site and I didn't know how we'd get a 12-tonne concrete mixer in without it being buried up to its axles," David said.

But Kirsty is philosophical. "We'll get there."

With the early mob at Wild Bush scanned at 205 per cent in-lamb, including one carrying four lambs, David admits this year's lambing will be a challenge.

"Looking at lambing at 200 per cent we're going to have to select our replacements well.

The ewes are in good condition so the lambs will be big. Two seasons ago our lambs dropped at 3.2kg and last season 5.2kg.

"A few ewes had twins with both lambs weighing over 6kg."

Lambs at Wild Bush are left on their mothers until they weigh 13.5kg.

"We take them through to 30kg and look to get the ram lambs away in January," David said.

And the temperament of the sheep is important for such a small-scale milking operation.
"The sheep have to be tame, you can't milk them if they're not," Kirsty said.

"It's all about stress-free sheep."

The appeal of their small operation is about keeping it local.

"A lot of people want something they know is local, ethical and sustainable, and we want to keep things that way," Kirsty said.

But when people ask about transport to market, the answer can surprise.

"We walk with our stock to Fox Cottage in Woodville," David said.

"In the gloom of things, when we first started out, they were there and it was great to know someone wanted our cheese."

But with demand growing Wild Bush Cheese is now being couriered around New Zealand.

If you want to learn how to make your own cheese there will be a brie-making workshop at Wild Bush Cheese on Sunday, August 8.

Places are limited.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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