Cull necessary but ‘sad’ for farmers

Cull necessary but ‘sad’ for farmers
Kokopu, Northland, dairy farmer Royce Kokich

Northland dairy farmer Royce Kokich has great empathy for farmers forced to cull their entire herds of Mycoplasma bovis affected cows.
On March 26 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) determined 22,000 cattle on properties infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis would be culled; the cull started just two days later.
MPI’s response director Geoff Gwyn said the depopulation of entire herds on all 28 infected properties is a critical measure to control the spread of the disease.
All farmers on the infected properties in Hawke’s Bay, Canterbury, Otago and Southland will be compensated for their verifiable losses.
“This will be a big job and won’t happen overnight, but we’ll be meeting with the affected farmers in the coming days to discuss the operation, develop the plans and talk through compensation.”
Royce Kokich, a veteran in the industry, says the cull is for the good of the industry, but feels for farmers having to go through such a traumatic experience.
“We don’t want that disease and if it’s at all possible to eradicate it, well I think we’ve got to, but it’s really sad for them.”
If his own herd was affected, he would be extremely concerned, he says. Although the farmers will be compensated financially, it would take some several years to rebuild their herd with the specific genetic traits they wanted.
“That will be very hard. How would you value it when someone has made a real effort to improve their herd?” “Even if they can get a good herd together again it’s going to take a while to get back to have a fully productive herd.”
He noted, however, that sharemilkers were good examples of farmers who were often were able to develop a good herd in a relatively short time.
Royce agrees that the demand for replacement stock could put upward pressure on their price, but the cull of 22,000 cows needed to be kept in balance with a national herd of 4.8 million and the approximately one million cows culled each year. His own farm at Kokopu, near Whangarei, milks 300 cows on 127ha.
The herd produces from 109,000kgMS to 119,000kgMS a year. He has aimed to build a good quality herd by artificial breeding through LIC.
“I haven’t quite made the cut for the top 5% on breeding worth, but I am in the top 5% for production worth.”
The mainstay of the herd is a mix of friesian and kiwicross, but jerseys are mated to yearlings for ease of calving.
The farm grows nine to 11 hectares of maize silage for feeding from late summer through winter to ensure his cows are in top condition for calving from July 14 and to extend lactation, while palm kernel extract is used “to fill the gaps”.
“No matter what people say about its sustainability, I believe that for New Zealand farming, palm kernel has been a very useful tool.”
For environmental management, a constructed wetland is another useful tool because sediment is more of a concern in Northland than nitrates.
Other wet areas which also act as sediment traps and have been fenced off, Royce says. There has also been much more fencing completed than legally required.
“Our catchment ultimately leads to the Kaipara Harbour and sediment is a problem.”
Royce believes every farmer doing what they can will have a positive cumulative effect in reducing sediment, including in the harbour.
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