by Jeanette Fitzsimons
Have you ever felt that after a long day inside a building you just have to get out and feel the sun and breathe some air? I guess not being able to do that is one of the punishments the prison system imposes on offenders. But even they get an hour or so out in a courtyard for exercise and fresh air.
Most of us love having homes where we go to rest, eat, blog and shelter from rough weather. But imagine spending 8 months of the year confined inside – you’d have one hell of a case of cabin fever. That’s what is being applied for in the case of the Mackenzie Basin factory-farms.
Federated Farmers and the National Business Review are pretending not to know the difference between a herd home and a factory farm. They even think Russel Norman and I have different opinions on them.
They can’t succeed in driving a wedge between Russel and me on this because Russel and I visited Mike Moss’s herd home together, last year. This farm is featured on the Greens’ Good Farm Stories website.
Herd homes are open, light and airy and the cows are free to move around. They are not used 24/7. Even in filthy weather the cows are outside for at least the four hours it takes them to eat their daily ration of fresh grass. Then they are off the paddock, protecting the soil from pugging in wet weather and sheltering in the herd home where they have a ration of hay or silage to eat at will.
Russel and I were totally convinced when we saw the cows waiting to get back in after their time outside. When the weather is fine and the soil reasonably dry, they are outside all the time. Using a herd home as part of a pastoral farm results in much less nitrous oxide emissions from the wet soil. More manure and urine are able to be collected and treated for application to pasture when conditions are suitable. Animal welfare is improved. And herd homes can be used in a low-energy system because the cows still harvest their own feed with local dry feed as a supplement.
The factory-farms being applied for in the Mackenzie Basin are the opposite. The cows will be indoors 24 hours a day for 8 months, perhaps in cubicles most of the time. All feed will be brought to them, so it will require additional energy to produce and transport. Will it be palm kernel? Or maize or silage ‘cut and carried’ by trucks from hundreds of miles away? The Mackenzie Basin is a place where for much of the year no feed can be grown locally and the weather is inhospitable for cows.
Federated Farmers have twittered that it is the “principal” (I think they mean principle) that matters, not the scale. They’re wrong: it’s both.
Environmentally, scale can be everything. 180 cows might have a manageable impact on water quality, but 18,000 cows is a whole different ball-game. It is precisely the scale of dairying in New Zealand – the sheer numbers of cows, the intensity of stocking rates, and the resulting effluent and emissions – that is turning what used to be seen as a ‘clean green’ wholesome industry into a major polluter.
It’s also the principle. Outdoor cows that occasionally go indoors is fundamentally different to indoor cows that occasionally go outdoors. Animal welfare is an issue of principle, not scale – farm animals should live meaningful lives on farms, not in factories.
Intensive dairying in completely unsuitable places like the Mackenzie Country, and factory-farming practices generally, are recipes for disaster. The principle is all wrong, and the scale makes it worse still.
If you need any more convincing, then consider that Fonterra promotes use of herd homes on dairy farms, but has serious concerns about factory-farming destroying New Zealand’s competitive advantage of World SPCA-approved ‘clean and green’ pastoral dairying. And today the ODT reports Otago tourism and residents’ organisations calling the factory-farming proposals “insanity”.