Jeanette Fitzsimons: Factory farms have no place in fragile region

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The Mackenzie Basin proposals are a recipe for disaster, says Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Herd homes give cows freedom to move around. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Herd homes give cows freedom to move around. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Imagine spending eight months of the year confined inside - you'd have one heck of a case of cabin fever.

That's what is being applied for in the case of the Mackenzie Basin factory farms.

Federated Farmers thinks Green co-leader Dr Russel Norman and I have different opinions on herd homes and factory farms.

However, Russel and I both have visited a herd home and have the same opinion on their benefits. We both oppose the factory farming proposals in the Mackenzie Country.

Herd homes are open, light and airy and the cows are free to move around. They are not used 24/7. Even in filthy weather the cows are outside for at least the four hours it takes them to eat their daily ration of fresh grass.

Then they are off the paddock, protecting the soil from pugging in wet weather and sheltering in the herd home where they have a ration of hay or silage to eat at will.

When the weather is fine and the soil reasonably dry, the cows are outside all the time. Using a herd home as part of a pastoral farm results in much less nitrous oxide emissions from the wet soil. More manure and urine can be collected and treated for application to pasture when conditions are suitable.

Animal welfare is improved. And herd homes can be used in a low-energy system because the cows still harvest their own feed with local dry feed as a supplement.

The factory farms being applied for in the Mackenzie Basin are the opposite. The cows will be indoors 24 hours a day for eight months, perhaps in cubicles most of the time. All feed will be brought to them, so it will require additional energy to produce and transport.

The Mackenzie Basin is a place where for much of the year no feed can be grown locally and the weather is inhospitable for cows.

On Twitter, Federated Farmers argues that it is the "principal" (I think they mean principle) that matters, not the scale. They're wrong: it's both.

Environmentally, scale can be everything. 180 cows might have a manageable impact on water quality, but 18,000 cows is a different ball-game. It is precisely the scale of dairying in New Zealand - the sheer numbers of cows, the intensity of stocking rates, and the resulting effluent and emissions - that is turning what used to be seen as a "clean green" wholesome industry into a major polluter.

It's also the principle. Farming outdoor cows (that occasionally go indoors) is fundamentally different to a factory of indoor cows (that occasionally go outdoors). Animal welfare is an issue of principle, not scale - farm animals should live meaningful lives on farms, not in factories.

We agree with Fonterra and Forest & Bird that intensive dairying is completely unsuitable in the fragile Mackenzie Country. We also agree with the Prime Minister that factory farming threatens to undermine our competitive advantage from our grass-fed, World SPCA-approved, clean and green dairy farming. We agree with the Otago tourism and residents' organisations that have called factory farming in the Mackenzie 'insanity'. It's a recipe for disaster. The principle is all wrong and the scale makes it worse still.

* MP Jeanette Fitzsimons was Green Party co-leader from 1995 until June, when she stepped down.

- NZ Herald

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