'Unacceptable': Agriculture Minister slams winter grazing images, establishes new taskforce

The images show cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest.
The images show cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest. Photo credit: Supplied/Angus Robson.

The Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor has ordered the establishment of a winter grazing taskforce, calling images of the practice unacceptable to him.

The issue has been under the spotlight after photos of mudbound cows in Southland and Otago were released by environmentalist Angus Robson.

Damien O'Connor said the taskforce would respond to the animal welfare issues associated with winter grazing.

"Images of cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest and calving in these conditions is unacceptable to me and I've heard loud and clear from the public that it's unacceptable to them too," he said.

Winter crop grazing is used in some parts of the country to provide enough feed for stock at a time when there's not enough pasture. 

A cow gives birth in the mud.
A cow gives birth in the mud. Photo credit: Supplied/Angus Robson.

"Done well, it provides animals with quality feed to keep them warm over winter," said O'Connor. 

"Done badly it means cattle can be knee-deep in mud which gives rise to completely justifiable concerns for their welfare."

The taskforce would bring together vets, industry leaders and officials to identify the issues and look at solutions. 

Damien O'Connor said the images were unacceptable to him.
Damien O'Connor said the images were unacceptable to him. Photo credit: Supplied/Angus Robson.

O'Connor said winter grazing also had an environmental impact and the Government was working on ways to address that too.

"The Government has bottom lines on animal welfare and there are some people falling well below acceptable practice. Unfortunately, it's another situation of a small number of farmers letting the side down and bringing everyone into disrepute."

He said it was time for greater co-ordination, faster action and consequences. 

"MPI's Animal Welfare unit has stepped up its compliance activity and is keeping a very close eye on the situation."

"Our international reputation depends on getting this sort of thing right, as does our social licence to operate within New Zealand.

The group would meet for the first time in the next few weeks and to present back to Damien O'Connor with first-steps by the end of the month.

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