Moo-ving on from Gypsy Day
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.