Mackenzie (or mooloo?) Country

Will the free-range dairy cow become a thing of the past?

Will the free-range dairy cow become a thing of the past?

There is a stoush down south in the Mackenzie Country – a large basin that has traditionally been the preserve of dryland pastoral farming and tourism. There are plans to house around 17,000 dairy cows under cover for up to eight months of the year in 16 large farms.

Critics call it industrial farming that could hurt New Zealand’s farming and tourist reputation (the proposed farms’ locations are close to Lake Ōhau and Ōmarama). Proponents say that the sheds will have little environmental impact as the effluent can be collected from the concrete floor and then diluted and spread back onto the land to fertilise it.

This proposal is another step in a trend that began in the 1980s which has seen dairy farming spread from traditional strongholds such as Waikato and Taranaki into other areas, even into dryland sheep farming areas in Canterbury and elsewhere. Critics say that the farmers are profiting at the cost of the environment. On the other hand the industry is a vital export earner.

Such proposals go through the resource consents process of the Resource Management Act, where the focus is on reducing, mitigating or avoiding any adverse effects of proposed developments rather than prescribing what type of activities are appropriate in a given area.

This proposal is interesting as it raises water rights, water quality, farm intensification and animal welfare issues all in a setting that has been recognised for its natural landscape features.

Is intensive dairying appropriate in a setting such as the Mackenzie Country, which takes its name from a sheep rustling rogue?

4 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Ben || December 8th, 2009

    It is an outrageous proposal, driven only by greed, that will destroy both the McKenzie basin and our reputation as a nation committed to ethical, pastoral farming. Anyone with half a brain knows that New Zealand’s economic future lies in exporting high quality and sustainably grown food to niche markets. Photos of cows in sheds will turn consumers off our produce as quick as you can say ‘dirty dairying’ – the collaspe of the veal market in the UK shows how quickly that can happen. The people behind this move should be continually dunked in the freezing cold rivers they’re so set on destroying until they come to their senses.

  2. Comment made by Julia || December 8th, 2009

    I think it’s a shame. Because of both the water rights issues and, in this time of environmental responsibility, Copenhagen agreements, and such it just doesn’t seem very environmentally conscious.

    Mother nature usually wins in these situations though, and I’m sure there will be disastrous consequences. When the time comes though, saying “I told you so” doesn’t really seem to cut it.

    Also, while the focus of the stoush is on dairy herds, spare a thought for the beef cattle who are already farmed in high density feed lots for 250 days of their lives in Canterbury.

  3. Comment made by Emma || December 9th, 2009

    When will we wake up and realise that our wild rivers (not to mention our lakes) are some of the greatest environment assets we have in this country? This is another nail in the coffin of their demise.

  4. Comment made by Kerryn || December 10th, 2009

    Aside from animal welfare issues, you have to ask whether a place like the Mackenzie Basin is suitable for dairy farming. If cows need to be kept in cubicles for most of the year which can only be supplied with water through major irrigation works, it seems a dubious prospect. But then entreprenurial humans don’t let a few natural barriers get in the way of a buck or two.

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