Craigmore case study on animal welfare

FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) published a report on the Animal Welfare initiatives of various asset owners and investment managers, retail and institutional investors, service providers and farmland specialists, including Craigmore.

To see the full report click through to this FAIRR link, or read below for the Craigmore case study.

Carigmore beef

As investors in livestock farming, animals are at the heart of the Craigmore business, and Chairman Nick Tapp explains that the health and well-being of its animals is critical to the health of its balance sheet. “In any farming system, if you look after your livestock and they are in good condition, with low levels of illness and injury, they perform significantly better.

Compromising on welfare does not result in economic benefit; it is not an optional extra, it is at the core of what we do” says Tapp. “Our cows are our workforce, converting dry matter into protein; they will only do that well, if they are healthy and unstressed. And we also want them to produce another healthy calf – even more reason to care for them well.”

Craigmore uses a number of measures to ensure its animals are in the best possible condition, including regularly assessing body condition.
Body condition scoring guidelines have been developed by industry body Dairy New Zealand to enable farmers to measure and manage the health of their animals through monitoring of weight, muscle mass and fat coverage. Cows are scored on a 1–10 scale. Craigmore works to keep its cows to a body condition score of five, which has been assessed as optimum condition for milk production. Any score other than five has impacts either on milk production or on the health of the cow, particularly in terms of fertility and calving.

Warren Landles, Sustainability Manager at Craigmore, explains ‘ you can’t expect an animal to perform to its best if it is not in good condition, evidence shows that a drop in body condition score from five to four leads to a 12.5kg drop in milk solids or 160 litres of milk production. A drop in score to three reduces milk solid production by more than 30kg or over 500 litres of milk over the season, equivalent to approximately US$113 per cow5, or US$45,000 for a herd of 425.”

On the other hand, a body condition score of six and above may lead to a slight increase in milk production, but it also can mean the cow is overweight and more likely to require assistance during calving, which has direct costs such as vet bills as well as putting increased strain on both the cow and calf.

Pregnancy is a critical part of the dairy production cycle. For the cow to come into milk it is necessary for a cow to produce a calf, and the body condition of a cow during mating and calving is critical. Landles explains, “Pregnancy rates are improved when body condition is maintained in the period between calving and mating. A drop in body condition score will see at least 5% fewer cows getting pregnant during first mating. This has knock-on effects for the entire milking season. What’s more, the healthier a cow is, the healthier her calf is likely to be at birth, which provides the foundation for our future milkers.” Maintaining cows in a healthy and stress free environment pays dividends for today’s production and for the future quality of the herd. There are no welfare corners to be cut.

Farm teams at Craigmore are also vigilant in monitoring animals for lameness, i.e. any abnormality, which causes a cow to change the way it walks. Craigmore has calculated that animal lameness can have direct costs of up to US$320 for each case, along with a number of other unquantifiable costs such as lowered fertility and reduced production yield. Maintaining tracks and pastures to minimise risk of hoof damage is essential.

The Craigmore team disagree that more intensive management of dairy cows can prove more profitable for investors than the outdoor pasture-based grazing system that it uses, and that is the norm in the New Zealand dairy industry.

Tapp explains that cows reared in intensive indoors systems, fed on a grain diet, may ultimately yield inferior returns. “Pasture based cows who walk to feed themselves on pasture, and to the parlour twice a day for milking may produce less milk, but they will typically have four lactation cycles, whilst intensively farmed cows will average as few as two. A cow in a high input:high output housed farming system may produce more milk in the short term, but the cow is likely to be under greater stress from time to time. There is also a higher direct cost base from the feed inputs.”

Tapp concludes that the future in livestock farming is bright, but that the industry has to ensure not just food production for today, but must also grasp the principles of sustainability to ensure food production for the future. A focus on exceptional animal welfare standards is the corner stone of all sustainable livestock farming.