University trials huge cow barn
Massey University's cows look happy in their huge new barn - but they're not there just for their own comfort.
The barn, at Massey University's No 4 dairy farm, is part of a research effort to reduce dairying's environmental footprint and to improve productivity.
The barn cost $1.4 million to build and houses more than 200 cows in stalls. The ends are open to allow feed to be brought in, and effluent is deposited in aisles which have automatic scrapers.
Project manager and agricultural research officer Christine Christensen said 200 cows go in the barn for part of the day. Currently, researchers are evaluating bedding uptake by the cows.
The cows aren't being housed fulltime, rather the research is exploring how the barn might best be used as a management tool to increase the amount of pasture grown and harvested by the cows, and reduce the environmental footprint by better timing the collected effluent being redistributed onto paddocks.
The building will partly house cows, particularly in winter and spring, to combat the wet soils and treading damage at that time of the year, and through the autumn months for reducing urine patch deposition and consequently nitrate leaching.
Dr Christensen said there were two herds of 200 cows each, one being partially housed with the other being managed using a standard feedpad system. The housed cows' effluent would be pumped out of the shed into a new pond being constructed alongside the barn.
"The effluent will be collected in winter, stored and then re-applied evenly in spring."
She said at the moment the cows were trialling beddings of sand, covered foam, and rubber to see which the cows felt most at home on.
Dr Christensen said the building was built to high animal welfare standards and was a state-of-the-art barn. "Sometimes cows will be in here for 24 hours a day. So it has to meet all the animal welfare considerations, and it does."
The research is part of Pastoral 21, a collaborative venture between DairyNZ, Fonterra, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, Beef + Lamb NZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Its goal is to provide solutions for profitably increasing pastoral production while reducing farms' environmental footprint.
Dr Christensen said Massey University's No 4 dairy unit was a commercial farm, and an objective of the research was to recoup the money spent on the barn, through less treading on wet pasture with its loss of feed, combined with more even and carefully timed applications of effluent.