Federated Farmers is questioning the on-farm practicalities behind some of the proposals in the new draft code of welfare for dairy cattle.
While well intentioned, some of the changes it proposes would be difficult for farmers to put into practice, the group’s animal welfare spokesman Wayne Langford says.
“The theory behind some of this is really good, it just hasn’t had a practical lens put on top of it.
“The code could add undue red tape on top of driving us away from our unique pasture-based system,” he says.
The code was drafted by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).
The main proposed changes in the draft code relate to body condition score, intensive winter grazing, shelter, provision of lying surfaces and limiting time on hard surfaces, calf rearing and end-of-life management.
Langford says much of the initial feedback has been that the proposals aim to fix issues that a small minority of farmers do with no regard to how it could affect the bulk of the industry.
An example of this was the proposal to remove electrified backing gates and top gates used in holding yards at dairy sheds.
The gates are used by farmers as a way of controlling animal flow into the milking shed.
Langford says he is unaware of any farmers who have been prosecuted for using these gates and he questions why the code has taken such a tough stance on it.
“If you use both of those tools incorrectly of course they can have animal welfare repercussions, but the majority don’t. They use them very successfully and it actually improves animal welfare outcomes by improving flow.”
New proposals around how much new born calves should be fed also concerned him.
It would see the calf fed liquid feed at a rate of no less than 20% of their body weight divided into no less than two feeds per day for their first three weeks.
It would remove the option of using a once a day feeding system, which was used by some farmers, as well as potentially making it more difficult to introduce the calf to grass, he says.
“Another theme running through the document is more consultants and more veterinarian input into farming practices. Those guys are significantly short staffed and don’t need more work over and above what they have got.
“It seems to be over prescriptive and personally I’m a little disappointed that its come out in the format that it has. It’s more likely to turn farmers off than engage them with the process.
“The views I’ve had from farmers are certainly very negative on it.”
He suspects much of the push for the change is coming from regulations being adopted from the Northern Hemisphere.
The problem is, many of those rules are based on indoor farming systems rather than the outdoor, pasture grass fed systems of New Zealand.
DairyNZ’s general manager for responsible dairy David Burger says they were relieved that MPI had extended its consultation period on the code from June 9-June 29.
He says it was too early to comment on some of the proposals in the code as they were still reviewing its contents to see if it is practical, clear and fair and achieve its desired outcomes.
“There’s a whole bunch of stuff in there that we are having a look at, at the moment.”
Ensuring animals have a good life is a core part of being a dairy farmer and New Zealand dairy farmers are operating at a very high standard from a global perspective, he says.
Animal welfare science has also changed since the code was last reviewed with dairy animals being now classed as sentient, meaning they had positive and negative emotions.
“The question is how do you translate that to the day to day on farm. That’s where we are having a good look at the science and the practicalities.
“We are really trying to understand will it be pragmatic to implement and will it achieve the intended outcomes.”
NAWAC’s revision of the code has taken 18 months.
A working group, which DairyNZ had been a part of, was created to advise the committee of the code’s content.
Many of the suggestions put forward by this group were not included in this draft code, Burger says.
“The code is a lot different to a lot of the working group’s recommendations.”