SILVER WINNER FOR SHEEP INNOVATOR
OF THE YEAR
Sponsored by: Shearwell Data
Matt and Becky Van Der Borgh
Bull’s Farm, Top Paddock Sheep Dairy, West Sussex
Five years ago Matt and Becky van der Borgh made the life changing decision to buy a flock of milking sheep and start a completely new enterprise, Top Paddock Dairy, producing and processing sheep milk products.
Prior to this they had been running the family farm at Horsham, West Sussex, as a typical mixed farm with Mule cross Charollais and Suffolk sheep and arable crops alongside a fencing contracting business but were looking for an new opportunity.
After buying the flock of 100 Friesland ewes and two rams in 2013 they had to set about building a milking parlour and dairy, which they did themselves from scratch, before milking could commence in 2014.
In addition to this they had to find a market for the milk. Matt says: “It is not like conventional dairying where a milk buyer will come and collect your milk. We have to process it all ourselves on farm and then find a buyer.”
A local dairy initially agreed to buy the processed milk and since then the business has steadily grown with the frozen sheep milk, cheese and ice cream available in local shops or ordered online and then couriered all over the country.
Ewe numbers have grown to 150 with a target of 200 and new genetics introduced to improve both yield and conformation. A by-product of the dairy are the lambs which are reared on a milk machine, with the top 20 per cent retained as replacements and the remainder going into the food chain.
A switch to once a day milking has had a dramatic impact on the running of the business freeing up time to focus on marketing and selling and has improved ewe health without significantly compromising yield.
In addition to running their own business the couple are very active in raising the profile of sheep dairying and promoting the nutritional and health benefits of sheep milk and in doing so helping not only themselves but other producers.