Friday, July 1, 2022

Do your homework

Sometimes you have to walk a distance to get the best perspective, to see the whole picture and how the focus of your attention fits into the wider landscape.

England and Ireland are a long distance away but for those of us on a FarmWise Dairy Exporter study tour to look at wintering systems that sense of perspective has given some clarity about the issues. Much was learnt – details, specifications, numbers and plans – and we will share those with you over coming months.

But the most salutary lesson for all was perhaps the reaction we got, time and time again, from our hosts bemused at why we, New Zealanders, champions of grazing systems, had come to the other side of the world to learn about housing our animals.

In some cases there was a flicker of disappointment from the Northern Hemisphere’s fervent disciples of NZ grazing principles when the reality of how their idols were more commonly farming now became clear. The focus of grazing devotees on profit, not production, and their clear understanding of how more intensive systems such as housing lead to new costs structures gave all pause for thought.

Sure, housing and wintering decisions are often being driven by environmental pressures and in some cases will be the right way to go. But seeing how putting cows on concrete leads to step change shifts in systems, more spending and a whole new world of slurry has emphasised just how important it is to think carefully before the first slab is poured.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire might not be the most apt expression for a trip that was spent mostly in sub-zero temperatures but it serves to remind us that there’s often no perfect solution.

The group’s consensus on advice to farmers was to think carefully about what such investments do to your overall system and if you decide to go down that path then plan, research and understand what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t be pushed into a design, do your homework and stop and think hard. Wait until you have the answers before you commit to what will be a significant change.

We’ve found variations aplenty, some great research in Ireland and minimum standards already set by industry in the United Kingdom. The two farming systems in our feature on pages 46-55 set the scene and in coming months we’ll share more of details of what we found.

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