Getting a sheep dairy industry up and running in Canterbury has been a "chicken and egg," situation but things are starting to come together says Guy Trafford.

"Processors have been saying there's no volume out there to warrant putting processing in place so we're not interested, and farmers have been saying there's no processor, so why bother going down this route?"

"We've been trying to join the dots to bring it all together."

The senior lecturer in Ag Management at Lincoln University spoke to The Country's Jamie Mackay about sheep dairy which he believes is a viable alternative to cow dairy in New Zealand.

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"Sheep milking seems to be a good option for both farmer and for processor," says Trafford who reckons dairy farming in Canterbury is no longer the default choice as it is facing more environmental constraints and is expensive to set up.

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Sheep dairy is "relatively cheap ... and relatively low risk to set up," for someone who is already a sheep farmer says Trafford, as farming can continue whilst construction of a dairy shed takes place.

"You're still producing lambs and you've got the meat market there available for your lambs if you're not milking your sheep. So there's a fairly smooth transition, unlike a cow dairy farmer - if they were to change to sheep dairy, they've got [to have] a complete system change to do that."

Trafford says there are three specific breeds suitable for sheep dairy, the East Friesian which is already established in New Zealand, a Middle Eastern breed called the Awassi and a new breed brought in from France called the Lacaune.

"The Lacaune is probably where the future lies ... it's a slightly meatier breed which still produces similar volumes to the East Friesian and probably a slightly easier more robust animal."

Guy Trafford is calling for expressions of interest from sheep farmers regarding the formation of a Canterbury Sheep Dairy Association. This is to create an organisation to facilitate the creation of an export-based industry within Canterbury.

A meeting for all interested in the Canterbury Sheep Dairy Association will be held at the Darfield Rugby Club at 7pm on Thursday.