Dairy Sheep Case Study


In 2013 the small New Zealand sheep dairying industry was facing several challenges, on- and off-farm. The Boosting exports of the emerging NZ dairy sheep industry (aka ‘Dairy Sheep’) programme used a co-innovation approach to these challenges, developing research with industry partners and collaborators. Partners and collaborators included Callaghan Innovation, Victoria University, and Otago University, as well as industry partners Kingsmeade Cheese, Blue River Dairy/ Antara Ag Farms, Waituhi Kuratau Trust (WKT)/ Maui Milk, and Spring Sheep Milk, who ranged from small-scale sheep cheese makers to large-scale operations.

Programme activities

Trial work was conducted from 2014 to 2019, and covered sheep milk composition, health benefits, increased milk production, and environmental footprint of dairy sheep. The research was both on and off-farm, with the majority of on-farm work conducted on research partners’ farms. Throughout this period supporting work was done to enable and co-develop this research, including the following activities:

  • Meeting with industry partners to discuss proposal, prior to programme planning
  • Meeting with industry and research partners individually to discuss concerns and needs
  • Meeting with industry partners to discuss IP
  • Annual Sheep Milk conferences (jointly organised with Massey University), from 2015
  • Meetings to discuss adding additional partner to programme
  • Biannual meetings with industry to share findings and plan upcoming research
  • Getting permission from all groups prior to external presentations and publications


The Dairy Sheep programme delivered significant impacts to the dairy sheep industry, including solutions for lamb rearing and feeding; data on the environmental footprint of sheep dairying; successful processing options for liquid sheep milk products; and work on health benefits of New Zealand sheep milk. The programme was recognized with an MBIE Gold Star rating in 2018 and an AgResearch Impact Prize in 2019.

Researchers and industry partners interviewed about the project identified the following successes:

  • Delivering results that benefited industry
  • Raising awareness of sheep milking
  • Developing on-going trusting relationships with industry
  • Getting different groups working together well
  • Generating new information and writing papers
  • Demonstrating science could be conducted well on a commercial farm

Challenges and success factors

Interviews with researchers and industry partners identified the following challenges and success factors for the project:


  • Relationships with and among some industry partners
  • On-farm challenges, related to communication and conflicting priorities
  • Conflict between industry needs and funding expectations
  • Lack of skills and expertise for handling programme complexity and conflict
  • Limited funding, time, and resources for the programme

Success factors

  • Communication that built relationships and trust
  • Focus on delivering value to farmers
  • People with needed skills and attitudes to support collaboration
  • Willingness to be flexible and adapt to changes

An evaluation of the Dairy Sheep programme highlighted that it is vital for co-innovation programmes to have people with the right skills, particularly around communication, flexibility, and managing complexity and conflict. Additionally, the evaluation indicated that developing shared understandings and building relationships take time, but are essential to the success of research programmes with industry.