Proposed "cubicle farming" of dairy cows in the Mackenzie Basin is causing alarm to animal welfare and environmental groups and threatens the country's credibility as a producer of pasture-grown dairy products.
Proposals by the three companies for resource consents for 16 new dairy farm developments managing nearly 18,000 cows housed in cubicle stables are before Environment Canterbury (ECan).
Under the plan
cows will be confined in cubicle stables 24 hours a day for eight months of the year, from March to October, and allowed outside for 12 hours a day from November to February.
Cubicle farming involves each cow having its own cubicle, where it can return to lie down or sleep, and a "stable" area where it can eat and socialise with other cows.
Herd sheds are not new to New Zealand and are common in Europe. Used appropriately they provide shelter for the cows from climatic extremes and cows are able to come and go at will.
Cows to be kept inside for eight months
The proposed development in the Mackenzie Basin is in a different league. This proposes keeping cows inside for eight months of the year and then allowing them access to grass for 12 hours a day for the remaining four months.
Minister of Agriculture David Carter comments on intensive farming in the Mackenzie Basin
"I am concerned about the proliferation of dairying in fragile environments. They shouldn't be allowed to proceed unless we can be sure they can mitigate any adverse environment effects.
He then goes on to say
"Providing it adheres to acceptable animal welfare standards, I don't think there are issues there."
National Animal Welfare Advisory Council (NAWAC) chairman, Dr John Hellstrom, speaking on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme, noted that herd sheds were not necessarily a bad thing but that current welfare guidelines did not cater for the Mackenzie Basin proposal. He further noted that animal welfare considerations were paramount in setting guidelines.
Keeping all the eggs in one basket
Farming's love affair with dairying has seen huge areas of rural New Zealand sold off at outrageous prices and turned into dairy farms. Dairy farming on the Canterbury Plains - land ideally suitable for arable farming - has seen huge amounts of water sucked out of rivers and aquifers for irrigation. Effluent pollution is seeping into those aquifers and ruining important water sources.
And what if the bottom falls out of dairying? With all the eggs in the dairying basket there is now insufficient diversification to protect rural New Zealand - and the economy - should the rest of the world decide some other protein source is the Next Best Thing.
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