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An inside look at Southland Dairy

A big crowd at a recent open day at a Winton herdhome shelter proves there’s an appetite for change as Southland’s farmers look to ‘gain ground’ with a more efficient use of land and labour.

After converting to dairy over 23 years ago Shane and Vicky Murphy have steadily increased their herd while pragmatically investing in the infrastructure of their Winton farm.

A crowd of approximately 50 people arrived to see the wintering operation up close at a recent herdhome shelter open day. The event was run by Numat, the Oamaru-based company working with the Murphys to highlight both the herdhome shelter and the rubber surfacing used within.

“There was a lot more people turn up than I thought there’d be,” says Murphy. “Everyone was very positive and interested in it.”

While the size of the crowd was a surprise the Winton farmer believes “the writing’s on the wall”.

“People know something has to happen with changing how we go about things,” he says. “I don’t know what’s exactly coming over the next ten years, but the pressure is going to stay on for farmers. So everyone wants to stay ahead.”

Herdhome shelters and rubber surfacing are seen as a relatively new way of farming to many New Zealand farmers, an innovation that’s ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘must have’. The introduction of the first building was initially a pragmatic decision for the Winton farmer.

“The cost of building another effluent pond or a couple of herdhomes was probably around the same,” says Murphy. “The herdhome was initially to be used just as a feedpad too.”

“With some really heavy soils we were doing a lot of damage to pastures and needed to fix that situation,” says Murphy. “Feeding them inside during wet weather saves a lot of pasture land.”

In the second year he decided to winter some of the herd on a trail basis in the herdhome shelter. The positive results were enough to warrant further expansion, the farm building two more and undertaking various trials over the following three years. The results were positive.

“The cows in our herd home are in better condition than those wintering out in the open, they’re fatter and they (herd home cows) are going through roughly a third less feed than the others,” says Murphy.

This waste in feed is another important factor when it came to deciding on the investment. “Out in the field the cows will trample feed into the ground,” said Murphy. “You’re just throwing money away.”

Animal welfare and increased efficiency are two key features for potential customers assessing the rubber flooring according to Numat consultant Myles Stewart.

The agri-surface company has seen a leap in orders over the last three years as farms throughout New Zealand are stepping away from concrete to the warmer, safer option of rubber surfacing in feedpads, herdhome shelters and other key areas.

“We’re definitely getting more interest in it (rubber surfacing) as more farmers now take the time to properly weigh up the cost analysis of the installation,” says Stewart. “The animal welfare angle is helpful, as are all the small savings made in the day-to-day work.”

The statement is backed by what Murphy sees at ground level in Winton.

“They (field day visitors) could see that, given hay or matting, the cows definitely prefer the matting when given the choice,” he says.

“For helping the cows cope the matting and herdhome makes calving a breeze too,” he says. “During a wet week the calves come in far better condition. They’re off to a way better start – which is pretty satisfying.”

It’s not just the cows that find life is easier with the matting says the dairy farmer.

“If you don’t have the rubber mats you need straw, which makes it that much harder to get rid of the effluent. You’ve really got to be digging it out all the time. So you’re saving time and money everyday with the matting.”

Productivity gains are obviously a key focus too.

“You’re always looking to push towards better production,” says Murphy. “We’re really focused on winter feeding and looking after the herd to ensure they’re in good condition for spring. You have to get better all the time, at everything. No matter what part of the farm there’s always room for improvement.”

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