AUSTRALIAN dairy farmers considering housing their cows should give them choices, according to a visiting Canadian animal welfare researcher.
New Zealand began phasing out routine calving induction more than five years ago, with the practice now banned as a management tool.
According to the Federated Farmers of New Zealand, calving induction only applied to about 2% of the national herd prior to the ban, with the majority of farmers not using the management tool at all.
Despite the low rates, dairy farmer and Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis said there was still initial opposition to the change.
“Before it happened there were quite a few farmers vocal about making sure it wasn’t banned because it was a good management tool, a few were very vocal,” he said.
“But actually since it has been banned, the same farmers I’ve heard nothing from.
“Yes, there probably has been a cost to the farmers who were heavily reliant on induction, but it’s not going to send anyone bankrupt.”
Mr Lewis, who rarely used calving induction on his 1100-head herd prior to the ban, said the change had actually improved his farm management.
“It’s forced myself individually and my staff to go back to the old style of farming in reporting heats and tail paints and doing the basics really well,” he said.
"Last year we had 9% empty on a 10 week mating period and I’m picking this year our empty rates might drop by 1% to 2%, it’s been a good lesson for me actually.
“Some years I’m picking in the future, when we get bad weather, the empty rates will go a bit higher, but in a good year they will go a bit lower.
“But, especially in a lower pay-out year, you have to make sure that strategy around feeding and calving time and maybe the wintering of the cows is spot on.”
Mr Lewis said the other industry benefits include improved customer perception of farmers and a reduced threat of damaging animal welfare campaigns.
“At the end of the day New Zealand farmers want to sell their product for the maximum dollars,” he said.
“The way we farm, if shoppers associate that with a good management style, they will hopefully pay more for our product over a South American or Russian product.”
Earlier this month, Dairy Australia hosted a webinar for farmers and veterinarians on lesson from New Zealand in phasing out calving induction with NZ vet David Hawkins.
In April 2015, following a series of meetings and consultation with farmers, vets and processors, the Australian Dairy Industry Council agreed to phase-out routine calving induction nationally.
It introduced a 2016 target that routine calving induction will be limited to a maximum of 15% of cows in a herd, unless an exemption is granted, either by implementing a herd fertility management plan or by obtaining dispensation for exceptional circumstances.
The timeframe for the full phase-out will be reviewed annually.
THE ADIC estimates that in 2015 less than 1.5% of the national herd was induced.