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Bovine bliss in a winter cow house

FINIAN SCOTT
Last updated 11:20 26/06/2013
Cows
Mytchall Bransgrove

MOVE OVER: Cows jostle in the queue to enjoy one of the back scratchers in the Studholme cow house.

Cows
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/Fairfax NZ
WINTER BLISS: Cows under cover at a farm in Studholme. They had warmth, food, foam waterbeds, back scratchers and even music playing.

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Numerous South Island farmers have been putting in the hard yards, trekking out into waist deep snow in parts of the Mackenzie Country, firing up bulldozers and snow ploughs in an attempt to set tracks for stock and feed out.

Weather-hardened livestock do their best to hunt out natural shelter belts, prepping for the inevitable mad rush towards the trail of food snaking a path behind the steaming tractor and feed bin.

Meanwhile, as the doors roll up on a Cow House at Studholme, the cows inside look up, lazily, mid-chew, to see who this new "disturber of the peace" may be.

Cows "love" music, according to psychologists and, as Cyndi Lauper's Time after Time wafts through the naturally-lit barn it would appear as though Classic Hits is the station of choice for the shed's bovine residents.

It's in weather such as this that Daniel and Penny Burgess' 350-head Cowhouse truly proves its worth.

Their stock have been dried off for the winter and, having spent time indoors in the past, the herd quite simply "ran inside" as they were shifted prior to the spate of rough weather, said Penny.

Described in an article last year as "five-star acowmodation", the concept of housing cows inside has raised eyebrows in recent times with questions being raised over animal welfare issues.

The negative temperatures and chilling winds when they are out in the paddocks make it difficult to see how these cows could be any worse off than when outside battling those elements.

A suggestive shunt tells one cow using the in-built automatic back scratchers, that her time is up. A queue has formed behind her.

Two carwash-like brushes are mounted in the building, under which the cows are able to stand and have their backs scratched at any time of the day or night.

Each of the animals has a 40ml foam mattress and the entire shed is self-cleaning, says Daniel, who has just finished altering the effluent scrapers to sweep the length of the shed automatically at three, instead of four-hour intervals.

"This is our third winter housing the cows inside," he says. With their farm sitting only six metres above sea level, the concrete-floored barn has allowed them to avoid having their cows turn the farm to sludge.

The shed proved it's worth almost immediately back in 2011, with snow falling in early spring during the first year.

Now we "can get up in the morning and we know where they are," said Daniel.

"We're not having to hunt round for them in the mud."

The shed has assisted in lifting milk production on the farm by 20 per cent.

While DairyNZ figures show average milk solids production across New Zealand increased to between 340 and 370 kg per cow in the 2011-12 season, the Burgess' stats now sit at around 480 to 500 kg per cow.

Following the recent downpour the cows "will just about finish the winter in here now," says Daniel, and they don't seem to be all that upset by the prospect.

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In the colder months feeding outside works to maintain the condition of the animals, whereas inside the cows not only maintain condition, but also gain condition due to the lack of climate-induced stress.

If this snow and cold weather becomes a recurring theme and if these stress-free, Cyndi Lauper fans are anything to go by, the concept of housing livestock may become an increasingly prominent feature on New Zealand farms.

- The Timaru Herald

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