Dairy industry needs to wake up to stress on cow and farmer
Last month was excellent for grazing cows outdoors, while this month initially resulted in near-drought conditions in some parts of the midlands.
The increase in rainfall in the second half of this month was a welcome relief for grass regrowth on many farms. Some farmers have resorted to feeding baled silage, made two weeks previously, to bridge the gap in grass supply. However, low temperatures at night have increased the incidence of chills and pneumonia.
Milk supplies to the creameries have continued at record levels. Processing capacity has become a critical factor in the dairy industry. The requirements have been outlined on several occasions but the investment has not been made. Increased cow numbers and excellent grazing conditions have exacerbated this problem in the current year.
At farm level, the impact of increased cow numbers and an imminent superlevy has increased stress levels in both man and beast. Farmers are frustrated with advice given to increase the use of dairy sires three to four years ago. It was perceived that the possibility of a superlevy was a thing of the past. The only restriction on future output was supposed to be the Nitrates Directive.
The mismatch between cow numbers and quota available dramatically increases stress levels for the dairy farmer and cows. This mismatch will have to be addressed, not alone in a quota-restricted production system but also in the post-quota era.
The welfare of both the dairy farmer and the cows have to be borne in mind on our food production systems. On many farm visits, farmers complain about the workload involved. We have increased cow numbers, with increased stocking rates and automation in milking systems. However, the quality of life for both the farmer and cow producing the milk has gone down.
Cost-efficient milk production cannot come at any cost. The high incidence of divorce and suicide in the New Zealand dairy farm population is not well recognised. Dairy farming can be an enjoyable and rewarding way of life.
Discussion groups, media and the mobile phone have increased the communication between the dairy farm and the outside world.