US mega-dairying not good fit for NZ

A mega-dairying set up in the United States shows cows housed 
in large sheds and kept in yards. Supplied photo.
A mega-dairying set up in the United States shows cows housed in large sheds and kept in yards. Supplied photo.

The mega-dairying concept is not likely to take off in New Zealand, says DairyNZ general manager David McCall. Reporter Nicole Sharp caught up with Mr McCall at the South Island Dairy Event last week to talk about his recent trip to the US.

The United States concept of mega-dairying, where cows are housed in large sheds and are fed forage food and milked up to 10 months of the year, would not be suitable in New Zealand, DairyNZ general manager for development and extension David McCall says.

Mr McCall has recently returned from a trip to the United States, where he investigated the concept of mega-dairying and what it would mean for New Zealand.

Mr McCall said the biggest issue would come down to production costs. If New Zealand was to try the US method we would lose our competitiveness, he said.

In the US, dairy farmers have a replacement rate of 40% to 45% of their cows each year, which was more than double New Zealand's.

In the US it depended on the milk price as to when a cow was culled, Mr McCall said.

Systems for both the cows and calves were completely confined. Cows were milked up to three times a day.

Until calves were old enough to be weaned they were raised in areas called ''calf cafes''.

Bobby calves in the US were reared into the beef industry, while in New Zealand they were generally culled.

''If we were to use their system [mega-dairying] their costs would be lower than ours,'' Mr McCall said.

The US was one of New Zealand's larger competitors in the dairy industry, he said. If New Zealand didn't use pasture grazing, it wouldn't be able to compete with the US because of production costs.

Their non-pasture feed was cheaper than ours, their labour costs were between $NZ10 and $NZ12 an hour,

whereas ours was $14.25, and their infrastructure costs were half of ours, Mr McCall said.

New Zealand dairy farmers had to keep improving their efficiency to maintain their competitiveness, he said.

''There is no one system that fits all,'' Mr McCall said.