Southern Dairy Hub’s planned wintering barn trials have been delayed a year. Story and photos by Karen Trebilcock.

The day of the first field day of the year at the Southern Dairy Hub was also the day the Government finally declared a drought in Southland.

Farm general manager Louise Cook said she “had been in tears several times” due to autumn’s dry conditions.

Although cows were in good condition, farm covers were low with balage fed out since the start of March and cows on once-a-day milking since March 27. The round was 40 days plus.

Sprinklers in the dairy yard for the cows waiting to be milked had helped to reduce heat stress.

“Balage is very hard to get hold of. We will get to the point when we’re done. We’ll have to stop milking because we have run out of feed,” she said.

Their saving grace was 59 culls had been sold as “in-milk” cows at the end of February. Getting culls into the works had proved close to impossible due to labour issues on chains.

No financials were included in the field day handout and there was no farm walk as usual.

“We’re trying to ignore the payout at the moment and focus on the future and our long-term viability,” she said.

With the three-year research on fodder beet vs kale wintering finishing in May, a much-talked-about multi-system wintering barn, which was to be used for the first time this winter, has now been delayed until next year.

Pre-Covid, DairyNZ staff travelled to North America and Ireland to investigate possible barn systems for the hub.

DairyNZ senior scientist Dawn Dalley said the infrastructure would provide a range of options to reduce the negative impacts of wintering on water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and public perceptions.

Two designs are proposed. The first is an enclosed barn with a wintering area, calving pad and a feed pad for milkers.

It will have a wood chip bedding for the loafing areas and a different surface for feed areas.

The second is an uncovered, all-weather surface with shelter from the prevailing wind. It will use greenwash for cleaning and will combine loafing and feeding areas.

The operating costs of the two designs will be compared as well as animal welfare, especially lying times.

Dawn said the next steps for building the infrastructure was convening a small group of farmers to finalise the design as well as testing the surface to be used in the uncovered system.

A location on the farm still needed to be decided, final plans drawn and costed before applying for consents.

The off-paddock infrastructure will be part of a comparison study with the farm’s cows split into four.

The infrastructure will be for 230 cows and another 230 cows will be wintered on fodder beet and balage in the paddock.

The stocking rate of both of these herds will be three cows per hectare with 150 to 180kg of N/ha/year applied on the milking platform.

The rest of the cows will be stocked at 2.5 cows per hectare with 50 to 60kg N/ha applied. Some of the cows will be wintered on fodder beet and balage and the rest on grass and balage.

Animal performance and welfare, forage production and utilisation, profit, greenhouse gas emissions and water quality would be evaluated.

Questions will be asked on whether off paddock wintering has a lower environmental footprint, was better for animal welfare and for water quality.

Also, whether wintering on grass and balage only was more profitable than wintering on crop.

With the new trial not starting until June 2023, cows would be wintered this year on a mix of swedes,kale and fodder beet at the hubwith smaller research topics investigated, Dawn said.