Farm leader cautions against herd homes

Last updated 06:00 28/06/2014
Dairy herd home
Fairfax NZ
CAUTION URGED: Fonterra chairman John Wilson has said dairy farmers need to be "very careful" about the extent they use herd homes.

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Dairy farmers need to be "very careful" about the extent they use herd homes, says Fonterra chairman John Wilson.

Wilson said more Kiwi farmers were adding herd homes to their operations and investing significant capital in "concrete and buildings".

He said more thought needed to go into the best fit for dairy farming to find solutions to the challenges of nutrient loadings on farm environments.

"I think we have to be very careful and think very carefully to ensure if we are investing in these investments in herd homes and all these sorts of things that we are very clear that we are going to remain globally competitive and that we continue to have flexibility and be able to deal with volatility in milk prices and I'm very sure that we will find low cost solutions to the environmental nutrient loading challenges that are in front of us at the paddock level."

Herd homes and wintering barns to feed and house cows indoors at various times of the day and year have begun appearing mainly in the South Island as farmers look to stop effluent finding its way to water sources, add to cow comfort and increase profit margins.

A new free-stall barn trialled at Massey University houses 200 cows when the soil is too wet to graze in winter and early spring.

Effluent is collected from the structures and stored in ponds during wet months and spread when pastures are drier.

Wilson said there were many different approaches to dairy farming and converting grass to milk in the most efficient way.

A lot of science was being devoted to finding environmental solutions, he said.

"The reality is all of us farm in different ecosystems - different rainfall, different soil types and different farming systems that we run and the knowledge we have today is so much greater than it was 10 years ago, but it needs to be greater still before we start to really commit large amounts of capital where we over-capitalise these farming businesses."

Wilson said most of the milk was produced from pasture systems in New Zealand and it was critical for New Zealand's competitive advantage that dairying was pasture based with cows in a "great environment".

He said many dairy farms were close to producing organic milk.

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