Environmentalist Angus Robson this week launched a campaign against the practice of winter grazing, where cattle are strip fed a crop. Cattle can be left standing in mud, especially if it has been raining. This can become problematic in a wet winter, and sometimes causes sediment and nitrates to flow into waterways. Robson had support from animal rights group SAFE, which called winter grazing unacceptable. The Country's Jamie Mackay speaks to Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor on whether this was "fake news", and why farmers need to be more vigilant than ever in this digital age.
Scroll down to listen to the interview:
Mackay: Is there a bit of fake news out there at the moment around the wintering of dairy cows - or the wintering of cattle full stop?
O'Connor: Look, some of it's a bit fake but those pictures [from Robson] are real. The circumstances [are] probably not explained always.
But there are some wintering practices that need to be changed and we've got to get ahead of the curve, not keep getting battered around.
The dairy industry has suffered from that for a long time, [it is] catching up, doing a lot of good work around environmental management off-farm and effluent and all the rest of it.
What we've got is fodder beet, we've got more intensive crops that have higher yield, means we move animals more slowly within the paddock - they're on the paddock for longer - and that does create a lot more mud and the wrong circumstances.
And we've got to be aware that there is an obligation for those animals to have a dry place to lie down, they need shelter and if we don't do that we're going to come under the scrutiny of organisations and animal welfare, and vets.
But SAFE, as always, goes one step too far saying that newborn calves are born and brought into those circumstances. That's a very rare exception, as we all know.
Mackay: Well, I'll quote them, Damien. SAFE says: "It's appalling that pregnant cows will be forced to give birth in mud with no shelter. What a terrible start in life for that vulnerable little calf." Now someone needs to take SAFE to task over this because nearly all dairy cows will go home from winter grazing and calf on pasture with shelter, or perhaps even inside.
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I know, and the problem is that they run the social media campaigns [and] they get the emotive content. We can't just stand up to it with fact. We've got to have actually sophisticated, proactive storytelling of our industry to counter that.
Just to sit back and say "Well, it's not like that" is not good enough in today's world and we have to have proactive campaigns to get out and sell the positive aspects and actually make sure we're doing the right thing.
Listen to the full interview below:
We only need one or two farmers in a region to be doing that, the photos go out there and everyone's portayed in a negative light.
We are governed by the lowest common denominator in everything we do, that's the reality of the new world and we just have to help everyone come up to proper standards of animal welfare, biosecurity and all the other practices that we do on-farm.
Also in today's interview: O'Connor discusses the latest Colmar Brunton poll results, takes a look at a bouyant red meat sector and shares agricultural insights from his recent visit to the US.