Friday, July 8, 2022

Proactive farming

Future environmental compliance was the main driver for building an indoor wintering shed on Barry Macdonald’s 130ha Murray Grey cattle farm at Oreti, near Winton. “I believe sooner rather than later we’ll be required to winter adult cattle off soil during winter so I decided to take a proactive approach,” Barry says. The building and associated work has cost close to $250,000 but after one season of wintering 140 in-calf cows he’s convinced it’s money well spent. “I’m thrilled with how it’s panned out. It won’t be suitable for every beef farming situation but for where I farm it works out. It’s added monetary value and a long-term, environmentally sustainable capital resource.”

Construction of the Herd Home was straightforward but took longer than expected.

The 140 cows, separated into three similar sized mobs of heavy, middle-aged and younger animals, soon adapted to the daily routine.

They were fed once a day with on-farm grown whole crop barley and grass silage. The feed was dispensed on the concrete apron and Barry was pleasantly surprised at the uptake.

“It wasn’t great quantity because of the dry January and February and I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough but by the end of the winter I was chucking the stuff at them even though the cows ate everything.”

He had considered building feed troughs but has found the concrete apron is sufficient and works well.

The cows were let out weekly for exercise, during which the barley straw floor covering was topped up with some of the 60 large, round  bales bought in for the job.

Cows had the opportunity to calve inside but during the good weather were shut out of the shed. But it proved a welcome shelter for the late calvers during the shocking weather during much of October. On the worst day cows that calved out in the paddocks walked their newborns to the shed.

“I was amazed that cows would get calves born in the paddock to walk 400 metres to the shed.”

Barry had concerns that the small-framed, newborn calves might get their feet stuck in the grating but that didn’t happen.

In January a JCB with forks and a bucket was brought in to lift up the grating floor and scoop out the manure which was distributed over 40ha. The manure and slurry has proved to be a bonus, reflected in the good grass growth after application.

With the second indoor season approaching there’s little Barry plans to change.

“I know I can hold 150 cattle no problem and probably more on a short term basis.”

Cows will be brought in early to mid-May but could be left outside longer if conditions are suitable. Before moving indoors cows will be transitioned to silage feeding. Assuming a “normal” winter, cows should be out of the shed by mid-September.

Over the next year finishing touches will be rolled out, including a permanent fence and access gates to the outside area of the shed.

Accidental beginnings

Barry owns Torrisdale, the largest fully recorded Murray Grey stud herd in the country.

His introduction to the breed was because of his late father Dig’s altercation with a bull that left him laid low for several months.

After the accident Dig decided future cattle breeding would be by AI only.

On inquiry about the available AI genetics a local agent suggested the newly introduced Murray Grey.

The Macdonalds liked the breed and Barry, while still at high school, established Torrisdale in 1971.

The irony of the story is that now much of Barry’s time and income is based around the breeding and selling of bulls.

Barry is a national and international judge of Murray Grey and also sells Ballyhooley beef produced by his cattle at the Southern Farmers Market in Invercargill.

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