In 2017 Southern farmers identified off paddock infrastructure and its integration into farming systems as one of four key areas they wanted researched at the Southern Dairy Hub (SDH).
Farmers wanted more information on whether infrastructure could provide a feasible solution to help them reduce nutrient losses, improve wintering management, and how it could be best designed and managed to fit into their farm system.
An initial farm systems comparison trial addressed the other three priority areas - of winter cropping, fodder beet and achieving nutrient loss reduction targets. To progress off-paddock infrastructure, we have been collaborating with farmers to design a 145-cow fully covered facility.
This facility will support ongoing farm system research to investigate the impact of off-paddock wintering, and allow research on different loafing surface types and management at SDH.
The original design concept was for an infrastructure facility to be developed as a modular, cost-effective, and affordable solution for wintering cows. A critical part of achieving low-cost infrastructure was finding new cow lying surfaces and efficient designs that would work with and without a roof.
Despite some success in research phases, the cow lying surfaces made of recycled rubber/plastic/resin that were tested, were found to either have implementation issues, or not be cost-effective to use.
Southland farmers have played a key role in advising us on infrastructure design and operation, and we appreciate the contribution they have made to this project. Through these discussions, we agreed that in addition to building the right infrastructure, understanding the longer-term farm system impacts of the infrastructure is critical to this project.
To get maximum value from the investment, the build design has been revised to be multi-functional. This will allow future research to investigate different aspects of loafing surface management and surface types. This will enable us to provide guidance to farmers on the key factors around successful infrastructure use on farm.
Due to the infrastructure redesign to meet Southern farmer recommendations, and construction price increases, the revised build cost is higher than the amount agreed to by project funders in 2021.
We are now in the process of seeking additional funding from DairyNZ and MPI for this build and associated systems research, and providing supporting information as part of this process.
It will take time for funders to review and consider the revised design, and associated additional funding request. To accommodate this, the planned start date for the build has been changed. If funding is approved, the structure would be built in 2024 and then tested with 145 cows over a minimum of two winters (2025 and 2026).
Our research to date for this project has helped us better understand wintering surface options. It has also provided valuable insights into best practice design and build processes for wintering infrastructure. Our learnings will help inform farmers on key factors to consider when looking at different wintering options.
DairyNZ also continues to prioritise supporting southern farmers to meet wintering challenges. This work includes providing on the ground advice, practical tools and advocacy activity.
For more information on this project and using off-paddock systems, see link below: