Moo-ving on from Gypsy Day

The Timaru Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

The sound of hooves hit­ting the high­way could be­come fainter as red tape and biose­cu­rity con­cerns re­shape the dairy in­dus­try’s tra­di­tional Gypsy Day.

Ev­ery year, hun­dreds of the coun­try’s farm­ers up sticks on or around June 1 – the first day of the dairy sea­son – mov­ing their fam­i­lies, an­i­mals and busi­nesses from farm to farm.

But how they went about it had been chang­ing, and the ar­rival of the cat­tle disease My­coplasma bo­vis had made farm­ers cau­tious, said Fed­er­ated Farm­ers Taranaki pres­i­dent Don­ald McIn­tyre.

The Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI) is beef­ing up com­pli­ance with spot checks, and is backed up by staff of Ospri, the agency that man­ages the an­i­mal trac­ing sys­tem Nait.

MPI’s man­ager of com­pli­ance in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Gary Orr, said he was pleased to see a ris­ing level of un­der­stand­ing of Nait in re­cent months as a re­sult of the My­coplasma bo­vis in­cur­sion.

‘‘The op­er­a­tion is be­ing done at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions through­out New Zealand through ran­dom stops of trans­port ve­hi­cles to check an­i­mal move­ments and Nait com­pli­ance.

‘‘This is part of a con­tin­u­a­tion of the ac­tiv­ity which started some weeks ago, called Op­er­a­tion Cook Strait, where we ran checks on cat­tle cross­ing from the South Is­land to the North Is­land.’’

McIn­tyre said farm­ers’ cau­tion came mostly down to con­ve­nience.

‘‘These days there are a lot of things to tick off for health and safety and other reg­u­la­tions and it be­comes a has­sle.’’

This sea­son there was the added con­cern of the cat­tle disease, which has been found on 44 farms.

The bac­te­rial disease is spread from an­i­mal to an­i­mal by close con­tact and bod­ily flu­ids such as mu­cus. ‘‘There is the risk of spread­ing disease when cat­tle are walk­ing and graz­ing on road frontages – they all want to say hello as they’re pass­ing,’’ McIn­tyre said. Matthew Her­bert

For South Taranaki farmer Matthew Her­bert, the ex­cite­ment of his first sharemilk­ing job was tem­pered by con­cern over M bo­vis.

‘‘We’re pretty ex­cited to be tak­ing on our first job at a time when a lot of sharemilk­ing jobs are dis­ap­pear­ing and it’s get­ting harder to find a good one,’’ he said.

‘‘But for a sharemilker, your herd is your big­gest as­set – it can be the only real as­set for a lot of peo­ple – so to know in the back of your mind that one day it could be there and the next it could be on the back of a truck, head­ing off to get culled, that’s hard.’’

Her­bert and his part­ner had built a herd of 210 cows, all of which would be trucked to their new home near Manaia. They had done their best to en­sure their cat­tle weren’t at risk of get­ting or spread­ing disease.

‘‘We checked the M bo­vis sta­tus of all the an­i­mals and tried to buy from rea­son­ably closed herds,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s al­ways a risk when you’re bring­ing dif­fer­ent groups of an­i­mals to­gether but you try to min­imise that risk with who and where you buy from.’’

Yes­ter­day, Mid-Can­ter­bury dairy farmer Will Grayling was mov­ing a herd of 270 cows by road to win­ter graz­ing on a neigh­bour’s farm. This was just one of sev­eral herd move­ments over a week as 3300 cows on two farms are walked about six kilo­me­tres to spe­cial­ist win­ter feed crops.

‘‘It is one of four dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties we move cows to, all within a sim­i­lar dis­tance.’’

Cows are away for 50 days, be­fore re­turn­ing to the dairy farm just be­fore calv­ing.

Grayling and his wife Kim are eq­uity part­ners in Sin­gle­tree Dairies, near Ash­bur­ton, with DairyNZ chair­man and for­mer Fon­terra di­rec­tor Jim van der Poel the other main share­holder.

‘‘We won’t be the only one on the road but we work in to­gether to let peo­ple know. A lit­tle bit of com­mu­ni­ca­tion goes a long way.

‘‘If there are cows bound­ing the road, we will put in a sin­gle-wire elec­tric fence to sep­a­rate cows by a me­tre or two. This is to avoid cows’ noses touching.

‘‘Luck­ily, with cows, it’s easy enough to put up a sin­gle wire to keep them apart. So there is more aware­ness of keep­ing herds apart, rather than cows sniff­ing each other through the fence,’’ Grayling said.

As Sin­gle­tree Dairies had such a big herd, it was not hav­ing to share win­ter graz­ing blocks with other dairy farm­ers.

‘‘With My­coplasma bo­vis, peo­ple are more aware of the im­por­tance of record­ing an­i­mal move­ments, whereas in the past it was prob­a­bly viewed as com­pli­ance,’’ said Grayling, who won the na­tional Young Farmer Of The Year in 2011.

While his cows were only mov­ing to win­ter graz­ing, the My­coplasma bo­vis out­break meant there was a lot more angst among peo­ple mov­ing dairy farms.

‘‘One of our man­agers is mov­ing to a sharemilk­ing role on June 1 and has had to pur­chase cows from dif­fer­ent herds and check their an­i­mal-health sta­tus. It’s a big in­vest­ment and a lot big­ger thing for him to deal with than us just walk­ing cows around the dis­trict.’’

MPI said it was im­por­tant to note that cat­tle move­ments would con­tinue for some weeks.

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