Taranaki Federated Farmers has taken the bobby calf regulations issue by the horns and come up with a template for pens and loading that is particular to the province, but which other parts of New Zealand might also use or adapt.
The Taranaki Bobby Calf Action Group, with provincial executive member Janet Schultz at the helm, put together best practice guidelines and a roadshow that was presented at 10 centres around Taranaki. In total, around 500 farmers attended.
It was mainly about highlighting to farmers how they might prepare for the final two Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) young calf loading regulations, which kick in on August 1. But Janet says other messages also soon became apparent, including Health and Safety ramifications, and the need to talk to transport operators about what will work best for individual farm situations.
Janet owns and runs a local dairy farm. With the help of an assistant farm manager, she milks 270 cows morning and night, doing 100,000kg of milk solids. On top of that she works at the Stratford saleyards doing data entry, and joined the Federated Farmers Taranaki executive in October 2015.
A former hairdresser by trade, she describes herself as "very much a people person, and a communicator".
With that background she says she took a special interest in the need to get ready for the new rules and admits to a bit of frustration that initially the attitude to the looming changes tended to be along the lines "we're ready for it, no big deal".
She called for action again in October 2016, and Taranaki president Bronwyn Muir backed her. Janet had already organised a meeting involving farmers and representatives of transport and procurement companies, Fonterra and Dairy NZ when more footage of calf handling from one of the pro-vegan/vegetarian groups hit social media, and a dairy farmer found a covert camera in his milking shed.
With 21 men in the room, and Janet as chairwoman, opinions were aired and the draft of the 'Best Practice Guidelines for Bobby Calves in Holding Pens for Transport' was formulated.
With the help of Feds' territory manager Craig Sole and administrative manager Jessie Waite, Janet took the roadshow out during February and March.
"It was apparent from the first road show that there was a lack of understanding around the new rules, which caused levels of frustration," Janet says.
"I've had people come up and congratulate me for taking this on. But there have been others of the opposite way; they didn't quite get it that we were only the messengers. This is the law, this is what's coming, like it or not."
A common reaction was 'why can't transporters put in a hydraulic lift at the back of their trucks?'.
Janet says not only would the cost be prohibitive, but the trucks used for transporting calves are often in the same day required to take sheep and cattle to the works, then pick up winter cows for grazing. The time factor switching them over would be too great, the companies said.
"The guidelines we've presented meet the requirements of MPI and offer workable solutions," Janet says.
It was apparent from the first roadshow that there was a lack of understanding around the new rules, which caused levels of frustration.
They're practical and take also take into account Fonterra and Worksafe regulations when building new holding pens.
Janet believes a key for farmers is to talk to the transport companies they use before building or buying any pen.
The Taranaki action group was unanimous they didn't want ramps. Not only is it hard to get animals that are less than 14 days old to walk up ramps, the required 12 degree gradient to get up to an average truck deck level of 1.1m meant ramps would be something like 7m long.
They've also recommended a 2m height for a holding pen, otherwise the guys who on any one day might be picking up 600-800 calves will be at risk of back or neck damage with all the bending to avoid cracking their head.
"They also wanted to see steps up to the pen, preferably on the driver's side of it," Janet says. "A lot of pens don't have steps and it's a Health and Safety issue if the driver has to clamber up or leap into them from the back of the truck."
A safety rail, and chook-mesh on the steps for a non-slip surface, are also recommended.
The cost of the Taranaki pen is $3500-$7000 depending on the size required. Two firms in Taranaki are making them already and by mid-March had around 30 and 10 orders respectively, selling to farmers either as kitsets or put together on site.
"There are farmers with old milkrooms that could be used. They're already at 1.1m high [for truck decks] from when tankers used to come in. They could make a pen in that," Janet says.
Old races can also be used, but keep in mind the 12 per cent gradient. "And what happens when the front calf walking up the race decides to stop. That sort of hold-up can cause tempers to fray, just what SAFE and FarmWatch jump on."
¦Want a copy of the Taranaki Bobby Calf Action Group 'Best Practice' Guidelines? Email Jessie Waite at email@example.com.