The Ministry for Primary Industries is consulting on when to bring in new rules that'll impact farmers using barn systems to house dairy cattle.
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Dairy cows in a milking facility in New Zealand. Photo: 123rf

The rules aim to protect the welfare of dairy cattle by putting a cap on the amount of time they can be confined without access to the outdoors each year.

The new standards will mean where dairy cattle are kept in any off-paddock facility for longer than 150 days of the year, they must have daily or frequent access to pasture or a suitable outdoor area for the balance of that period.

In a consultation document, the Ministry said in Europe cows were often kept indoors over winter, while in North America many dairy cows spend all their time in barns and stalls and no longer had access to pasture.

“There is public concern for the welfare of permanently housed dairy cattle. For instance, in a UK survey of 363 people, 95 percent of participants believed that keeping cows housed permanently was not acceptable and respondents associated plenty of space, freedom to roam, fresh air and access to the outside with good animal welfare,” the document said.

The Ministry estimated fewer than 10 farms in New Zealand were likely to be impacted by the change. It said off-paddock facilities included calf sheds, purpose-built housing barns for cows, stand-off areas or pads and also feed pads.

MPI is now consulting on whether the new regulations should be introduced immediately, or if there should be a one year, five year or ten year transition period.

The independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee said it supported the one year timeframe, but the Ministry said this was unlikely to give affected farmers enough time to get the resource consents and funding they need to change their systems.

“The minimum standards will affect farmers who have invested significantly in off-paddock infrastructure. Some have also been impacted by Mycoplasma bovis which had additional significant financial and personal impacts on the farmers,” the document said.

Submissions on the the implementation of the new standards closes on Friday, 4 March 2022.

The release by Agriculture Victoria and Dairy Australia of the 245-page ‘National Guidelines for Dairy Feedpads and Contained Housing’ provides an invaluable resource to farmers across all Australian dairy regions when making decisions around feeding and housing solutions for their herds.

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