Otago dairy farmers Paul and Kyllee Henton are firm believers in the idea that New Zealand farmers are innovators.
If something isn’t available, hasn’t been invented or ‘can’t be done’, there is always a farmer somewhere sourcing it, making it or doing it, Kyllee Henton, a registered veterinarian, says
The couple, who run White River Holstein Friesians, did exactly that when they couldn’t find suitable flooring for their 600-cow wintering shed, so they went into research and development mode and decided to manufacture their own.
It has resulted in them launching a company, Agri-Tech Imports, which they now run alongside their 580-cow herd operation.
The couple have been on the farm for 15 years after entering an equity partnership with her parents to purchase the property.
The farm has flooded in previous seasons and she says they get snow most winters.
“During the harshest winter weather, we might keep the herd on the pad 24/7 in order to protect the pasture and the soil,” Kyllee says.
The tough climate was the reason behind the construction of a 600-cow wintering shed in 2015.
“We looked on the local market for barn flooring that was highly compressible, durable and easily cleaned, but there was nothing that really suited our requirements,” she says.
Realising they would have to make their own flooring, the couple contacted Paul’s brother David Henton, who has been based in China for the past 30 years.
“David works in the wider manufacturing industry and he knows how the system works,” she says.
“He and his 2IC researched Chinese manufacturers and Paul flew to China to visit several factories that had the potential to manufacture our matting.”
After finding a manufacturing outlet that understood what the couple was hoping to achieve, the design process was underway and shortly after, manufacturing began.
The matting is 100% rubber, made from 50% recycled rubber and 50% new rubber to balance sustainability and durability.
The moulds are the size of the mat, with rubber hot-poured into the mould to make one homogenous piece of rubber.
Each mat is 1.8m x 1.2m x 30mm, covering two square metres when laid and interlockable with other mats.
The specially-designed air-cushion base makes them soft and comfortable, and the top is textured for increased grip. The corners and sides are roll-proof to avoid tripping hazards.
The rubber matting was installed on their farm in 2017, and Henton says they knew it was a success when their cows started lying down and standing up, exhibiting natural behaviour just as they would in the paddock.
“It gives the cows confidence to walk around the pad and they don’t slip or fall,” she says.
The lameness in the herd also dropped completely due to the soft surface and increased grip.
While the mats were designed for their own use, Henton says other farmers became interested and they are now manufacturing the mats to order; they also keep stock on hand at their depots in Auckland and Otago.
Dairy farmers are finding the mats helpful on feedpads, dairy shed yards, entry and exit points of rotary milking sheds, underpasses, bridges and calf trailers.
And it’s not just dairy farmers that are benefiting from the matting, they are also being used by beef, equine, deer and pig farmers.
Customers can buy direct from their website or from their local Farmlands store.
Henton says matting enquiries and quotes are managed via email and phone when required, with their dairy farming business remaining their focus.
The couple subscribes to the idea that a fully fed cow is a happy cow, and aim to fully feed their cows year-round to support body condition, production and reproductive functions.
The herd produces about 550kg MS per cow and they have access to the feedpad as they need. The Batt Latch gates are unlocked at 3am and the cows come in under their own steam ahead of morning milking.
After milking they go back onto the pasture until the gates are automatically unlocked again around lunchtime and the herd can head back onto the feedpad.
Cows are wintered at a 96ha runoff nearby and they use another 45ha support block for cut and carry feed, including silage and fodder beet, which they feed ahead of mating.
They also grow turnips on the milking platform that are strip grazed and feed imported soya bean meal, DDG and crushed barley on the feedpad, along with minerals.
Henton says the journey to manufacturing the mats has been remarkably smooth sailing, despite the minor challenge of building a relationship with the right manufacturer in the beginning.
“Even covid hasn’t interrupted our supply; the only issue has been the cost of freight increasing five-fold,” she says.
“Our long-term goal is to grow the business and increase awareness of what we have created.
“We have had fantastic feedback from farmers so far.”