For James and Kate Clairmont farming dairy sheep is both a business opportunity and a way of walking lighter on the planet.

The couple and children Theo, 8 and Lily 6, run 150 east friesian ewes on 89ha on Craggy Range Rd east of Havelock North.

And now they have built their dairy shed to milk 100 mixed-age ewes a day. The ewes come down from their hill each morning when Kate calls them and line up happily for their turn at a stall where they also get a feed.

"They have quite a hierarchy, come in a particular order and will push each other out of the way," Kate says.


Their milk is then taken to Hohepa Homes' Clive base; some to be bottled and some to be turned into Craggy Range Dairy cheese.

At present they are making haloumi, feta, pecorino and a Spanish-style hard cheese called manchego.

There are also plans for icecream with the new owners of Hawke's Bay's iconic Rush Munro icecream makers.

The ewes are milked every day and produce about 1.5 litres a day for 220 days a year.

The family moved from Waiheke Island to their idyllic spot with its breathtaking views two years ago.

James had originally worked in corporate Auckland after a time as a rodeo rider. After losing his job in the global financial crisis he and Kate, who grew up on farm near Ashburton, decided it was time for a real change.

They wanted to get involved in food production so Waiheke was an obvious fit and cheese the obvious choice.

James went to "cheese school" at Putaruru to become a qualified cheese maker.


Sheep were chosen as the supply because he had a friend working on a big sheep dairy operation near Kuratau on Lake Taupō. The Waitua Kuratau Māori Trust supplied the Clairmonts with 1000 litres of sheep milk from their herd of about 4000 sheep.

James would drive to Putaruru to meet the tanker, make the cheese, and take it back to the island. He was doing this while he and Kate also ran an accommodation business and he was a luxury car chauffeur.

Soon after he bought a handful of sheep from the trust and did it all himself after he and Kate travelled to Europe to look at sheep dairying over there.

They sold their cheese at the island's markets and around various outlets in Auckland. One of his specialties was a red wine-soaked pecorino. He used wine waste from Waiheke wineries to form a distinctive rind on the cheese. Or he would stab holes in a blue cheese and soak it in port.

However, they had to expand to become sustainable and the island's land prices made that impossible.

So three years after seeing Pohewa Farm and its magnificent homestead they managed to buy it, a move made easier after Kate's family bought Pukenui Station at Ashley Clinton and also moved to Hawke's Bay.

Their operation had a setback over the winter with a health problem in their sheep but now they are up and running in earnest.

They have designed their shed so they can double their throughput and have plans to make their own product at the farm.

The ewes lamb in September and the lambs left on them for four to six weeks. Ewe lambs will be kept and the wethers sold for finishing.

They bought their sheep from Andy and Cat Gunson who had a sheep dairy operation at Crownthorpe but now solely breed for other enthusiasts.

The farm's logo is "Better for You and Ewe," a reflection of their wish for a light footprint.

Kate, whose area is animal husbandry, says they wanted another way of farming. A sheep dairy is less subject to the vagaries of lamb and wool markets and kinder than dairy cows with their huge water use.