Sheep milk: The alternative dairy option with potential to be worth $750 million a year by 2035

Sheep milk is being billed as an export growth industry for New Zealand, with the potential to be worth more than $750 million a year by 2035.

In a new partnership with the Government, Spring Sheep Milk Company aims to expand the industry into new regions and grow its appeal worldwide. 

"Sheep milk is relatively new, there's a lot of potential particularly with its alignment to key consumer trends we're seeing at the moment," chief operating officer Thomas Macdonald told Newshub. 

Spring Sheep Milk Company is the largest operator in the Southern Hemisphere. It's leading a $20 million programme in partnership with the Government to expand the industry into new regions, starting with Taranaki.

"Taking New Zealand's core natural strengths - pastoral farming, dairy farming, manufacturing of dairy products - and aligning those with the consumer trend that's looking for natural products that are easy to digest for consumers," Macdonald said. 

The company established a unique dairy sheep breed called the Spring Sheep Zealandia. 

"People might've disbelieved the fact that you could milk sheep and make money from it," Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor told Newshub. 

"They've proven you can do that. So the potential to expand this into a growing international market is something that we, as a Government, should support."

The Ministry for Primary Industries' Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund will contribute $7.97 million to the $19.94 million programme led by Spring Sheep Company.

The aim is to have 10,000 dairy sheep in Taranaki, producing 750,000 kilograms of milk solids per year.

The industry has the potential to be worth more than $750 million in annual exports by 2035.

Globally, the premium alternative dairy industry is growing by about 20 percent a year.

"The opportunity is there. It's up to us to see if we can grow that for the good of New Zealand into the future," O'Connor said. 

Sheep milk might take some convincing.

"For those consumers who might be hesitant about trying sheep milk, there's nothing to be afraid of, it's a fantastic tasting product," said Macdonald. 

It's said to be highly nutritious. Spring Sheep Milk Company says it contains up to 60 percent more protein compared to goat and cow milk.

The big question: Could Bovidae dairy ever overtake bovine?

"Look, I don't know if we'll ever be as big as the New Zealand bovine industry but we're certainly well on our way," Macdonald said. 

It's an ambitious new industry giving traditional Kiwi agriculture a chance to evolve.