Barn dairying spreads in South Canterbury

'This is the next level in dairy farming'

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013
This 97-metre building will milk 300 cows using robots when it is completed at the end of April.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/Fairfax NZ

COW HOUSE: This 97-metre building will milk 300 cows using robots when it is completed at the end of April.

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An indoor dairy barn being built in Cave will join several other indoor barns operating in South Canterbury.

A handful operate in Waimate, and they are becoming increasingly popular in Southland, where they are used as wintering barns.

In 2010, controversy erupted when three companies planned to house 18,000 cows indoors in cubicles in the Mackenzie Country.

According to farm manager Alex Ulrich - one of the farmers behind the latest large-scale cow house to be built in South Canterbury - using an indoor barn is the next level of high input dairy farming.

The 97-metre building near Cave will milk 300 cows using robots when it is completed, Mr Ulrich said.

"Dairy farming in New Zealand spans from low-cost dairy farming on pasture to high-input dairy farming on pasture. This is the next level. We're in a concrete paddock and we're growing crops for feed," he said.

The perceptions people had regarding indoor dairying concerned him, but he was adamant that farming cows indoors was not an animal welfare issue.

When he proposed the resource consent for the building, the Timaru District Council classified it as factory farming.

"They wouldn't have a bar of it. We had to take them to a barn that was running and they were blown away. You'll never see a cow more content than they are in here."

He hoped to have the herd milking by May 1 and planned to be milking the cows 12 months of the year.

The cows spend most of the year inside the barn, apart from six to eight weeks when they dry off.

This is to avoid milk loss due to environmental factors, such as hot or cold weather. The climate in the shed was very kind on the cows, Mr Ulrich said. The decision to build the shed instead of a conventional dairy shed made economic sense because of the small size of the farm.

"It makes this little property pay better than a [conventional] dairy farm and there are a variety of different reasons that are personal," Mr Ulrich said.

Typically, a conventional dairy farm in South Canterbury was 226 hectares, milking 779 cows.

The surrounding paddocks will be used for high quality crops, including maize, lucerne and grass silage. The feed will be stored in large pits at the end of the shed. High-energy, high-protein feed will also be bought in as required.

To allow ventilation, the structure has no walls.

Effluent from the cows is scraped up and collected into two tanks before being spread on paddocks.

It was a system that was "100 per cent controlled". Every scrap was caught, stored in a two-tank system and redistributed on to the crops as fertiliser, Mr Ulrich said.

"From an environmental respect, this farm is as good as you're going to get."

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- The Timaru Herald

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