Stocking Rates

The dairy industry is New Zealand’s largest export earner. There are more dairy cows in New Zealand than people so it is hopefully something that most New Zealanders can get their head around.

A dairy farm’s stocking rate is a measure of its carrying capacity. The average stocking rate in New Zealand is around 2.7 cows per hectare therefore an average 100ha dairy farm could likely carry 270 cows. The average stocking rate has been gradually increasing over time due to a number of factors, such as improved pasture management, increased fertilizer use, and greater use of imported feed (such as palm kernel). However no one would deny that there are surely upper limits to the stocking rate in pastoral dairy farming systems.

To increase milk production a different dairy farming system must be used such as that proposed in Central Otago a few years back involving cows housed inside in stalls for much of the year and feed brought to them. This way the land can be intensively cropped and as a result the stocking rate can be increased. Yet there must also be upper limits to the stocking rate in this system of dairy farming. Clearly the feed must come from somewhere.

The Central Otago proposal evoked a considerable negative reaction from the public. Even our Prime Minister said it could have a negative impact on New Zealand’s international free-range [dairy] brand.

The public believe that cows have a higher quality of life when they have space to free-range in a low stocking rate pastoral farming system as opposed to an intensive ‘barn-style’ farming system. People also inherently know that human beings have a higher quality of life when they have space to ‘free-range’ due to a low stocking rate (also known as population density), yet fail to recognise that continued population growth erodes this quality of life and will eventually lead to all, but the wealthy few, living a life similar to cows in a ‘barn-style’ farming system.

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