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Self designed mats a hit with the herd

Self designed mats a hit with the herd
West Otago farmer Paul Henton inside his 600-cow shed. His self designed rubber mats, which he had manufactured in China, have proved popular with the milking herd (below). Photos: Natasha Chadwick, Natwick photography.

Tapanui farmers Paul and Kyllee Henton of White River Dairies say that providing their cows with a covered feed pad and comfortable underfoot rubber matting has exceeded all of their expectations in its first two seasons.

The Hentons milk up to 575 Friesian and Friesian cross dairy cows on their 172 effective hectare West Otago property near the Pomahaka River, supplying Fonterra.

They built their 600-cow covered feed pad in 2016, comprising two bays of 135 metres long by 10 metres wide cow area with four feed troughs along the centre outside of the shed with a central tractor lane.

The shed is an Alpine Building kitset shed of the Henton’s and Bryan McKay’s (Dairy Production Systems) design to maximise ventilation and airflow. It features an effluent pond and rainwater storage ponds (for water captured from the shed roof).

The cow areas are cleaned with an environmentally friendly green-water gravity floodwash system using liquids recycled from the effluent pond.

This season they completed the shed with the installation of interlocking rubber mats designed by themselves and manufactured in China.

Unlike traditional concrete feed pads, rubber mattings provides protection from cold and moisture, and being non-slip and cushioning, they are better for a cow’s legs and joints, whilst the non-porous surface is hygienic and easy to clean.

The use of rubber matting is increasing worldwide as they are proven to have a positive impact on a cow’s welfare through improvements in mobility, health, hygiene, behaviour, and milk production, says Paul. They also do not need to be replaced each year like woodchip.

Paul was unable to source matting of a suitable thickness in New Zealand (he wanted 30mm), and so he designed his own mat which he had manufactured in China in conjunction with his brother who works in research and development there.

“Traditionally farmers have used thinner rolls of rubber in sheds, but this is more cushioning and designed for the cows to stay on it for much longer periods if the weather conditions require it.

We can have snow on the ground here for up to a week at a time.” To Paul and his wife Kyllee, a registered veterinarian, the cows are almost as important as family, and the drivers in the shed design were “animal welfare, cost, labour input and efficiencies, and to have really happy cows.”

Rainfall is typically 800mm plus, with wet seasons in spring and autumn, and Paul says the covered feed shed shelters the cows from the cold of snow, wind and rain in winter, as well as providing shade and cool in summer – and was valuable during the extremely hot weather experienced this summer.

Production has dramatically increased due to the increased pasture grown and supplementary feed no longer being wasted in the paddocks. The increase in production is nearly double what they initially expected.

“A fully fed cow is a happy cow. Cows like consistency in their diet and do not cope well with sudden changes in their feed quality or quantity. We try to fully feed our cows at all times of the year to support their body condition, production and reproductive functions.”

The Hentons run a pasture-based system with the goal of maximising pasture growth, harvest and utilisation by the cow. To maintain pasture quality, surplus grass is harvested into silage and baleage.

Their farm management system also features automatic gate openers (New Zealand made Batt Latches) bringing the cows from overnight paddocks into the feed shed early in the morning so that they can feed before the morning milking.

This means more time in bed, and “a lot less hours spent sitting behind the cows,” said Paul.

New technologies, low labour inputs and easy to run systems make for not only happier cows but also happy farmers. Paul says now they have the rubber mat design available he believes other farmers may be interested in their product.

Costs were “attractive”, and the matting was shipped over in containers and farmers could easily do a DIY installation.

The mats are also suitable for use in horse stables For more information on the shed or rubber matting, contact Paul Henton on 0272443354 or www. whiteriverdairies.co.nz.

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