Island Pure Sheep Dairy workers, owner remain committed to island life

The workers and owners at Island Pure Sheep Dairy remain committed to Kangaroo Island, farming and even sheep-milk cheese despite the closure of the long-standing tourism business.

Owners Geoff and Cathy Rischbieth made the official announcement last week that the sheep dairy was going to close due to high costs of running the operation.

The good news is that the property and business will be reborn into a beer brewery and also many of the meat sheep will remain on the property with some accessible for visitors to pet.

The property on Gum Creek Road and on the banks of the Cygnet River has a long history as a tourism venture going back at least 25 years when the veterinary practice owners the Johnssons and also the Berlins opened the sheep dairy to the public.

The Rischbieths purchased the business about 10 years ago and fought to keep it going despite the high cost of doing business.

Dairy manager Tiff Turner plans to stay on preparing the buildings and sheds to become a brewery, a job that could take nine to 12 months.

She also plans to retain her portion of the dairy sheep herd for her own purposes, possibly milking them in her own operation in the future.

She came to the island with a background in earth moving and mining, but said she had fallen in love with agriculture and primary production. 

The whole team at Island Pure remained passionate to the cheese and tourism industry and wanted to stay involved. 

“I am passionate about sheep and the cheese industry and we are not going to give up that passion, we just need to find other avenues to move forward,” she said.

Cheese maker Sally George also plans to stick with cheese making and does not plan on leaving the Island but is also hopeful of getting a cheese making operation going again after a short holiday.

“I am staying on the island and I am not going to stop making cheese, it’s what I do,” Ms George said.

Ms Turner said many of the other staff at the sheep dairy were hoping to get jobs at either the new brewery operation or perhaps a new sheep cheese venture down the track.

It had been a horrible year at the sheep dairy with a long hot summer before the winter rains adding to the costs, as well as the operation being on town water and electricity, which were very expensive.

Cheap sheep-milk cheese and product had been flooding the Australian market, adding to the challenge.

“We are probably the fourth sheep dairy in Australia to close it doors in as many months, which is a real shame,” Ms Turner said.

Island Pure Sheep Dairy had its final day open to the public on Friday and the ewes had all been weaned off milking, so there was no more fresh product or yogurt available.

But there was a stockpile of about six months worth of product, so sheep cheese lovers can still buy the product online and local restaurants and shops will also continue to be supplied. 

Many of the prime milking ewes, either Awassi, East Frisian or Assaf cross breeds, will be sold to a new sheep dairy venture in the Barossa. Ms Turner will take her own portion of the herd away to another Ki property.

Many of the meat sheep will remain on the property and become part of the new brewery venture. 

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