Herd hous­ing pros, cons re­vealed

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By GER­ALD PID­DOCK and TERESA RAM­SEY

Farm­ers invest in barns or a cov­ered feed pad for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

They can be an ex­tremely lu­cra­tive dairy farm in­vest­ment but there were plenty of fish hooks, DairyNZ told about 70 farm­ers at a work­shop in Mor­rinsville.

The work­shop was for farm­ers to learn more about whether they should invest in cow hous­ing.

Such an in­vest­ment of­ten cost in ex­cess of $1 mil­lion.

It re­sulted in an in­ten­sifi- cation of their farm business and farm­ers needed to do their home­work be­fore mak­ing any decision, DairyNZ peo­ple and business project man­ager Ge­off Tay­lor said.

Farm­ers needed to be clear on their goals and un­der­stand what they are try­ing to achieve and why.

‘‘Make sure that in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion will achieve those goals for you.’’

It needed to be treated as an in­vest­ment decision and any in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion anal­y­sis had to be farm spe­cific. What worked on a neigh­bour’s farm may not work on your farm, he said.

It was not al­ways about money but he rec­om­mended es­tab­lish­ing what the po­ten­tial costs and ben­e­fits might be so an in­formed decision is made.

‘‘And your eyes are wide open.’’

A high skill level of man­age­ment was re­quired by farmer and staff.

Poorly man­aged high­in­put sys­tems gen­er­ated less cash com­pared to low­in­put sys­tems un­der the same man­age­ment.

‘‘If you are go­ing to get into high lev­els of feed­ing, high lev­els of in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, you do need to be sharp on a whole lot of as­pects on your farm. It’s not the place to be if you just want to cruise.’’

In­ten­si­fi­ca­tion changed a farm’s risk pro­file and it was likely the farmer would not achieve the pro­jected ben­e­fits.

A DairyNZ case study of seven farms that had in­vested in cow hous­ing showed after three years, only one farmer achieved tar­geted pro­duc­tion.

This was hardly a prise, Tay­lor said.

In the business world, 85 per cent of all merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions failed to achieved the pro­jected ben­e­fits.

‘‘You can do bud­gets, but be re­ally care­ful how op­ti­mistic you’re be­ing.’’

In­ten­si­fi­ca­tion meant it was highly un­likely a farmer would breach an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards be­cause they had bet­ter con­trol over the body con­di­tion of the stock.

‘‘But we do know that if in­ten­sive farms go wrong, they can go very wrong and if you do breach wel­fare stan­dards, those are the sorts of things that can end

sur- your business overnight.’’

There was also a risk of the farmer over- spend­ing be­cause the in­fra­struc­ture of­ten came with hid­den costs.

Tay­lor had talked to farm­ers who have in­stalled cow shel­ters to gather feed­back.

‘‘The farm­ers love them and they wouldn’t go back, but they have just spent $ 1 mil­lion plus and it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to talk to peo­ple who have spent the money and get them to crit­i­cally eval­u­ate that spend,’’ he said.

Cow hous­ing was a de­pre­ci­at­ing as­set that re­quired on­go­ing main­te­nance costs, he said.

‘‘It be­comes re­ally crit­i­cal to think about what the im­pact of it is on your business over time.’’

There were

per­ceived

ben­e­fits that came with hous­ing cows in barns or shel­ters, for­mer DairyNZ re­gional team leader Dun­can Smeaton said.

Th­ese in­cluded the belief that it helped farm­ers meet nu­tri­ent lim­its be­cause it al­lowed them to cap­ture phos­pho­rous and ni­tro­gen in the barn.

Stand­ing cows off pas­tures could re­duce ni­tro­gen leach­ing by 25-55 per cent de­pend­ing on the farm sys­tem and time of the year. This was most ef­fec­tive dur­ing the au­tumn, he said.

How­ever, the in­ten­sifi- cation that came with a barn could po­ten­tially undo th­ese nu­tri­ent loss gains be­cause of the in­crease in cow num­bers.

Less than 5 per cent of farm­ers are able to run th­ese highly in­ten­sive sys­tems suc­cess­fully, DairyNZ farm sys­tems spe­cial­ist Chris Glassey said.

‘‘I think they can do it be­cause they re­lent­lessly mon­i­tor their feed sup­ply.’’

They were in daily con­trol of the whole sys­tem and were flex­i­ble and dis­ci­plined about the use of sup­ple­ments.

Th­ese farm­ers make good prof­its in high pay­out years, but were dis­ad­van­taged when the feed- to- pay­out ra­tio went against them.

‘‘ Last year those guys would have made great prof­its. This year, they will be tak­ing a real hit, I sus­pect.’’

Off-pad­dock fa­cil­i­ties can also re­duce sup­ple­men­tary feed waste and sum­mer heat stress, and pre­vent over- grazing in the sum­mer.

But Glassey urged farm­ers to com­pare the costs of barns with al­ter­na­tives such as sum­mer grazing and trees for shade.

Photo: FAIR­FAX NZ

PER­CEIVED BEN­E­FITS: There were per­ceived ben­e­fits that came with hous­ing cows in barns or shel­ters, for­mer DairyNZ re­gional team leader Dun­can Smeaton said.

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