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It was a hard decision to make but was compounded by a shorter season due to dry summer, increasing regulation costs and a need to increase their operation — set on a micro-farm block of just under 2ha — or sell up.
Mr Ramsay said large-scale operator Fernglen Farm, in Masterton, had achieved SPCAapproved product that had the big tick for animal welfare and was setting the standard for the growing industry.
‘‘It's fantastic to see animal welfare and the environment taken seriously as it is by many farmers, but a little concerning that it will become another layer of red tape verification cost that has to be passed on to customers.’’
He said for large dairy producers this compliance was a minor cost, but for Hipi Cheese the compliance costs equated to around a dollar per 100g of cheese, which was the same cost as budget supermarket cheese.
‘‘We have kept our price the same over four years and it's fair to say we have gained some efficiencies so we weren't actually going backwards.’’ he said.
‘‘It has been a bit touch and go with whether we continue milking or not over the last year or so, but thankfully we chose to keep going as our sheep cheese helped carry our family through Covid.’’
They were able to bring their production forward and shut down operation prior to lockdown.
“Cheese is an awesome product. It can sit in a cheese room and wait. We were thankful we were not dealing with a fresh product.”
There were a couple of things that helped with the decision to sell the sheep.
‘‘The stock price was looking good so there was a good opportunity. Sadly we could not get time off to get to a good friend's wedding and an extended family member had some bad news and we realised how horrible it would be if we were unable to be available if the worst was to happen.’’
The couple were impressed with how fast the industry was pushing forward, and had proved they could make a basic living off a 1.8ha block of land.
The Ramsays had found a new home for their 24 mostly East Friesian milking ewes, which in the past few seasons has included Dairymead genetics with a dash of Awassi.
Hipi Cheese, owned and operated by the couple who also had other jobs, started more than six years ago as they worked through their sheep milking processes.
They have spent the past few years getting established with their sheep stock and processes.
They ran the sheep, milked, then processed the milk for cheese themselves.
It is a path that has come from knowing people in the industry, and making the most of the opportunity. Their first milking was in November 2017 and since then perfecting their cheese had become an obsession.
‘‘It can take a long time from the day we milk the sheep to sale day for the cheese, and the day we sell is pay day — less all the packaging, GST and other expenses of course,’’ Mr Ramsay said.
It is placed into a ‘‘cheese cave’’ for maturation for four to 24 months, getting turned regularly.
‘‘So at this stage we will continue to offer a nice alternative cheese for those that appreciate the efforts that have gone into production.’’