Animal welfare taskforce reports on winter grazing

Red deer graze on winter feed near the Remarkables skifield road. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Red deer graze on winter feed near the Remarkables skifield road. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Eleven recommendations have been made by a taskforce set up to respond to animal welfare issues associated with winter grazing practices.

Images of cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest, and calving in those conditions, prompted Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor to establish the group in August.

In a statement yesterday, Mr O’Connor said the recommendations included.—

  • More work to understand and mitigate the long-term animal welfare consequences of intensive winter grazing practices.
  • Expand knowledge of barriers to adopting improved animal welfare practices.
  • More active surveillance to ensure animal welfare standards are being met.
  • The establishment of a pan-sector action group to implement the recommendations.

He had asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to work with farmers and industry groups to ensure farmers got the help they needed.

"Some farmers manage this system very well but for those who don’t — we’ve got to find a way of doing it better and help them do so.

"I know that many farmers are already changing and adapting their practice and I thank them for the effort. We want to help in that work," he said.

The next step would be the establishment of an action group to begin implementing the recommendations so some progress could be seen next winter and beyond.

In a statement, industry bodies DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand said they ‘‘generally agree’’ with most of the recommendations in the report.

However, both believed farmers with good wintering practices had not been adequately acknowledged in the report.

"Wintering animals on crops is an important management tool for farmers in some regions and, done well, good outcomes for both animals and the environment are achieved," DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Dr Jenny Jago said.

"We feel it is important to recognise the areas where good work is already under way and then focus efforts on additional support to lift outcomes where needed. Many farmers have good animal welfare practices and may feel disheartened to see this report does not reflect their good work," she said.

DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb and Federated Farmers had engaged with the taskforce about opportunities for the report’s objectives to be more practical for outdoor pasture systems.

"Some of the recommendations made under the premise of ‘always’ and ‘never’ to take place is unrealistic in our pasture-based system.

"The report states farmers should always provide animals with a soft dry surface to lie on which, in an outdoor system subject to weather conditions, is simply not achievable even with the very best management.

"A ‘never’ standard would apply if there was a little bit of rain or a lot of rain, which makes it impractical," she said.

Initiatives into research and on-farm management of winter crops had already taken place ahead of the recent planting season and would continue through 2020.

Southland had been one of the regions in the winter grazing spotlight and, yesterday, Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the report reiterated farmers were on the right track. He was also disappointed the report did not acknowledge those farmers "already doing it".

"Vast majority of farmers, in my opinion, operate with their animals’ welfare at the forefront of everything they do . . . this report recommends a lot of what I believe the majority of farmers are already doing," he said.

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