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Chief veterinary officer Dr Helen Beattie, of Dunedin, has strongly advocated for a national-level, pan-sector working group to be formed, saying a collaborative approach is needed to assist farmers through a fair transition away from such practices.
Intensive winter grazing was common and could lead to poor animal welfare and environmental damage, particularly during prolonged periods of wet weather, Dr Beattie said.
"We need to take a second look at these practices and, when animal welfare isn't protected, find solutions that rectify this safely,'' she said.
Poorly-managed winter grazing could lead to livestock standing knee-deep in mud without adequate shelter. In many cases, those practices were in breach of section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, which required the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals to be met.
Those needs included proper and sufficient food, proper and sufficient water, adequate shelter, and the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour.
"For intensive winter grazing to meet these needs, dry, sheltered areas with adequate lying space are required, as is access to fresh water, and also adequate nutrition. A monoclonal forage crop diet in late pregnancy is not likely to adequately meet all dietary needs.
"When the ground underfoot is wet and muddy, cows lie down less than they might otherwise choose to, and sometimes this is not until they are exhausted. If an animal is unable to lie down, rest and ruminate, it is not expressing natural behaviour.
"As we begin to experience more rain and cold weather, farmers need to be particularly aware of the risks these practices pose to livestock,'' she said.
Farmers should plan ahead at crop-planting time, so they could reduce the risks to their livestock, and the environment during crop use.
Winter grazing practices need not compromise animal health or welfare.
"We need for there to be a team effort, to help farmers, where this is required,'' Dr Beattie said.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ has also urged farmers to follow "best practice''.
B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison said poor winter grazing practices were "unacceptable'' as they were destructive to soils and waterways and could lead to poor animal welfare outcomes.
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said work had been done together across the sector and with central and regional government to review and improve winter grazing practices.
Federated Farmers board member Chris Lewis said there was "an onus on farmers everywhere'' to make sure they were doing it well, and to call out anyone using poor practices.