Dairy farmers have 'stepped up'

Dairy farmer Dean Alexander, of Lochiel, uses a feed, calving and wintering pad, to improve wintering and calving practices for both cows and staff. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Dairy farmer Dean Alexander, of Lochiel, uses a feed, calving and wintering pad, to improve wintering and calving practices for both cows and staff. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Dairy farmers are not getting the credit they deserve for stepping up their game to improve their practices, dairy farmer and industry climate change ambassador Dean Alexander believes.

He and wife Suzanne winter 1200 cows on two flat 179ha and 242ha platforms effective near Winton.

''As an industry, we have made huge innovations in the past 10 to 15 years, which has been driven by regulations,'' Mr Alexander said.

''Changes needed to happen and we have stepped up our game and ought to get credit for the progress we have made.''

He said the quality of water into waterways and estuaries had improved compared to 20 to 30 years ago.

''Three or four years ago I was embarrassed to say I was a farmer, and now I am proud to say it.

''I am proud of what we have achieved.

''My view is we are caretakers of the land for the next generation and we want to leave it in a better condition than we got it and most farmers will hold the same view.

''We are trying to do the right thing by the environment and by the family and we are passionate about looking after our animals.

''They are our livelihood.''

He has changed some of his winter management practices in the past few years and no longer grows crop, preferring to winter cows on grass and baleage.

He has a wintering barn for about 400 cows and two years ago built a calving and feeding pad that can accommodate about 120 cows at a time, which is sheltered and easy for staff to manage.

''Wintering has a bad rap from the public's perception,'' Mr Dean said.

''They generally did not understand about cow welfare.

''Cows on crop go extremely well and when we have severe weather events farmers put out extra feed and they seem to get through the weather unscathed as they have that extra energy to keep them warm.

''A lot of people are advocating doing away with winter crops but we still have to winter our cows and it may not [be] financially viable to spend $3million on wintering sheds or reduce the number of cows farmed.''

He said most farmers followed best practice management when wintering stock, which included ensuring they were well fed and in good condition going into winter.

Planning was essential to prepare for the next winter.

''The biggest thing is paddock selection.

''Think about your critical source areas, avoid them, fence them off.

''If there is a big gully or on a hillside, try to avoid it.''

He recommended back fencing, using portable water troughs and grazing from the top of a slope down.

Another issue is wintering on paddocks with heavy soils.

''Soil structure down here takes a bit of a beating with wintering although in northern Southland they are more likely to get away with a bit more cropping.''

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