NZ Farmers Plan To ‘Factory Farm’ Dairy Cows

Reports are saying that farming companies and the government are locking horns over applications to set-up 16 factory diary farms in NZ.

“Three companies* have applied to set up 16 new farms in the central South Island’s Mackenzie Basin, keeping up to 18,000 cows in cubicle stables** 24 hours a day for eight months of the year.
In Parliament yesterday Prime Minister John Key said the Government didn’t support it and Agriculture Minister David Carter had asked for urgent advice about how it was affected by the animal welfare code. (ed. we hope this is better for cows than for NZ’s sows in stalls)

Federated Farmers said the “so-called factory farming” cut costs, was environmentally friendly and would not tarnish New Zealand’s international reputation.”

Are they living on the same planet as the rest of us?

Ads like the above and images of “Anchor” cows merrily munching through acres of pristine green, green grass have been used for decades to sell NZ dairy to the world. It’s naive to imagine that the average consumer, who already searches out free range eggs and poultry in the supermarket and is starting to do the same with pork products, is going to buy dairy from cows kept in stalls for the majority of the year. One can only guess what these penned cows will be fed on…palm kernel cake perhaps? NZ already buys 1.1 million tonnes of the stuff, second only to the whole of the EC.

We are lucky cows...”

Ah but wait…New Zealand has a precedent for this. Dairy “giant” Fonterra (who have ‘come out’ against the proposal) already has a 35ha Chinese farm in Tangshan, Hebei province, east of Beijing. 3000 Freisian heifers arrived on the farm from NZ in May 2008 and the herd now has more than 4858 animals. The cows are milked three times a day, producing enough milk to fill 2  30-tonne tankers each day. It is a containment system, not pastoral, so the cows live inside and do not graze grass. See “Fonterra’s feedlot farm in China underway“. The construction of the farm was managed by Beca International, an employee owned independent company founded in NZ over 8o years ago.

When John Key visited China recently with his “Gang of Seven” to drum up business for New Zealand the group included Fonterra chairman Henry van der Heyden and  Beca Group chairman Robert Durrant. We leave you to draw your own conclusions.

And some farms in New Zealand already have the barns in place, one of them a north Otago dairy farm at Papapkaio near Oamaru. It’s only a 600 unit facility and there’s no indication of how long the cows will stay in the barn for each year. So are the current advertising campaigns already stretching the point?

“there’s no such thing as the great indoors, only our cows are free to roam all year round”

Given the massive profits that dairy farming, in both NZ and China, generates for the NZ economy every year the politicians’ objections sound like nothing other than political grandstanding. We predict that it is highly likely these plans will go ahead, and if the practice is shown to be successful many more farmers will follow suit.

* Southdown Holdings, Five Rivers, and Williamson Holdings (source)

** TechniPharm – “BIG Farms, BIG Sheds, BIG Results” (click on link to see photos) are said to be supplying the massive concrete floored, cubicled sheds.

TechniPharm design units for herds of 100-3,000 cows. The cost of a 600 cow unit is thought to be $2-2.5 million. The largest shed is 135m (1.5 times the length of a rugby field) by 34m – 5,000sqm (4,590 sqm to be exact) Based on the given figures for the maximum shed and herd sizes (5,000/3,000) that seems to equate to a space of 1.53 – 1.6 square metres per cow, not allowing for walkways and channels, which seems very small.

The argument that cubicled cows must be ‘happy’ otherwise they would simply stop producing milk is an invalid one – sows crammed into tight stalls bear multiple litters to full term and keep lactating despite their confined conditions and battery hens would’ve been phased out years ago if they failed to produce eggs.

See also: Cubicle dairy farmer fined 3 times:
Cornelis Zeestraten, also known as Kees, is the director of Five Rivers Ltd, which wants to build seven dairy farms near Omarama, with plans to keep up to 7,000 cows in cubicle stables 24 hours a day for up to eight months of the year. Zeestraten is also the director of Union Station Dairies Ltd, which owns a Tussock Creek (Central Southland) farm that was fined $25,000 by the Environment Court in August for unlawfully discharging dairy shed effluent to land. The company was fined $5000 in 2004, and $15,000 in 2007, for similar offending.”

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2 thoughts on “NZ Farmers Plan To ‘Factory Farm’ Dairy Cows

  1. Agreed and many councils simply lack the expertise to fully understand all the implications that large scale proposals such as these present. It will be interesting to see what happens now that the government has called-in the effluent discharge consents to be examined by an expert board. The amount of effluent that will be generated could be as much as a small city and it will have an enormous and long-term impact on the Mackenzie basin.

    The RMA also fails to deal with issues surrounding animal welfare and the water use consents can’t be called in because they date back to 2004.

  2. Great informative and interesting blog- good to see discussion about these issues that could have huge impact to NZ culture and image. My question is: how do we get to this state? Why aren’t all the possible environmental and social effects fully researched, understood and considered. I think the RMA and district plans fail- they are not dymanic enough to foresee all the possible implications to properly consider these quick and significant proposals

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