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Dairy Cows Thrive From Being Under Cover
May 18, 2015

One of Queensland’s richest mining service entrepreneurs and property developers is taking a plunge into Australia’s $4 billion dairy industry as the coal boom dulls.

Bill McDonald, 42, whose MCG Group has developed several coal mines in the past decade and, more recently, inner-city Brisbane apartments, is building a paddock-to-plate dairy empire.

Mr McDonald is converting cropping properties in far western Victoria and southeast South Australia’s grain belt to dairy farms milking 30,000- 40,000 cows.

The businessman, worth about $150 million, joins the growing list of corporations and institutional investors looking to make their Australian dairy farming ventures more profitable and less risky by housing cows in large barns.

Cows kept in massive sheds and fed hay, corn, grain and soilage prod­uce double the amount of milk than the average Australian cow, since they don’t need to walk several kilometres each day from the paddock to be milked, or use energy keeping warm.

Garry McNamara and his wife, Judy, have been housing 500 cows under cover on their 1300-cow farm near Colac since 2001, under a vast open-sided pitched roof shed that is as long as the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Mr McNamara says his cows, which can walk freely around the concrete and sawdust floored shed, eat as much as they want and sleep on sand beds, are under cover for three or four months after calving, when their milk prod­uction is greatest, and are then rotated back on to grass.

“Having the shed allows us to run more cattle (on their 500ha farm), produce more milk and stops us having to put cows in wet paddocks in winter where they bog it up and stop the good grass growth in spring,” Mr McNamara said yesterday. “Are they happy? Well, it is certainly better conditions in here in winter when it is wet, raining, cold and boggy outside and they eat and produce well, which is always the best way to tell if they are healthy or not.’’

China’s New Hope company, in joint venture with Gina Rinehart and the Perich and Moxey dairying families, who already run big milking herds in multiple 1000-cow sheds, plans to inject $80m into new dairy farms in southern NSW and northern Victoria, where cows will be kept ­exclusively in barns.

Dairy Australia’s John Droppert believes it is inevitable more of Australia’s 1.7 million dairy cows would be kept inside in barns and sheds for much of their lives, as corporations become more involved in the booming dairy industry and pursue economies of scale.

Mr McDonald has bought a large farm west of Edenhope to start his vertically integrated dairy enterprise. In October, West Wimmera council approved plans for his company, Camperdown Dairy International, to build a $17m free-stall barn housing 3600 dairy cows on the Neuarpurr crop circle farm, which will supply milk to the Camperdown dairy factory in western Victoria that Mr ­McDonald also bought last year.

Mr McDonald is finalising further contracts to buy another 3000ha of cropping land in the Wimmera and South Australia to convert to dairy farms producing more than 300 million litres of milk a year, and is investing $120m so his dairy factory can produce infant formula powder for China.

“In 2012 I knew coal was too hot, and so I diversified then — first into property development and now into agriculture,” Mr McDonald said.

But animal welfare groups are concerned, especially about cow lameness linked to concrete floors.

Animals Australia director Glenys Oogjes said: “We are really worried about the change in the lives of these cows when they live all year in these mega-sheds and are denied the ability to graze grass outside, which is what most people assume all dairy cows do.’’

 

Source – The Australian News


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