While the conversion of a dryland sheep farm into a dairy
farm where cows are housed in barns has been an amazing
journey, owner Willy Leferink readily admits the change is
not a silver bullet for the industry.
Mr Leferink, Federated Farmers' national dairy section
chairman, acknowledges that housing cows is not for everyone.
He points out that it is capital hungry and New Zealanders
have not yet reached the skill level needed.
''This is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It falls well
outside the parameters for the banks, but thanks to the banks
for trusting us.''
Mr Leferink said a conversion to a conventional dairy farm
could cost between $10,000 to $12,000 per hectare but the
conversion to barns could be $25,000 to $30,000 per hectare.
A higher return on capital, comfortable cows, low nutrient
leaching, total control over operations and a work-life
balance for staff were the opportunities and strengths of the
Pannetts Dairies, just north of Ashburton, hosted a group of
young arable farmers last week, giving them the opportunity
to see the barns in operation.
While the farm had irrigation consents when purchased three
years ago, these could not be activated because of
restrictive nutrient rules on the groundwater take, Mr
Leferink said. An equity partnership was formed in January
Development started in March, the first cows were milked on
May 19, 2013 and the first cows went into the barn on June
30. The project had come in on time and under budget.
The development of the barns was delayed because of district
council bylaws, planning issues and objections from
neighbours over the size of the barns, Mr Leferink said.
The four key components for the barn conversion was that it
be environmentally sound, animal-friendly, a nice environment
to work in and profitable.
''This year, with the fantastic payout, we will manage all
The two curved free stall barns provide beds with 50mm rubber
matting for the 950 cows, along with a covered calving and
dry cow area. The largest barn is 165m long and 40m wide.
Cows are milked up to three times a day in a 60-bail rotary
Cows spend the first 150 days after calving inside, but at
the end of lactation are free to go outside.
Calving occurs all year round, with 90 to 100 animals calving
each month. The aim is to milk 950 cows all year round.
Mr Leferink said the cows produced a lot more milk than
anticipated. Cows were culled on production criteria.
While milk production has dropped off on conventional farms
with recent wet weather, production has risen in the housed
cows as the temperature dropped.
The barns' thermodynamic design draws stale air up to a large
vent, keeping the air fresh in the open-ended barns. There is
no forced ventilation and even in summer the barns never get
Feed makes up 60% of the farm's cost. There is no feeding in
the dairy shed; instead, cows always have access to feed in
the biggest barn. Some feed has been sought locally but, with
the purchase of neighbouring land, it is hoped the farm will
Mr Leferink encouraged the young arable farmers to consider
establishing dairy barns on a corner of their property,
running them in conjunction with a cropping operation rather
than converting the entire farm.
- by Maureen Bishop