Animal welfare campaigners condemn Otago, Southland farmers caught grazing stock on substandard paddocks

Warning - this story contains pictures some will find disturbing.

Animal welfare campaigners are claiming too many Otago and Southland farms are putting stock through stress by grazing them on substandard paddocks.

The Environment Minister has admitted video provided to Newshub is damaging to New Zealand's 'clean green' image. 

A pregnant cow struggling to move through deep mud. It's from footage, given exclusively to Newshub by animal rights campaigners, showing winter grazing in Otago and Southland.

"We're seeing animals forced to live in mud, nowhere to lie down, no shelter, it's horrific," says animal and environment campaigner Geoff Reid.

In regions where it's hard to grow grass in winter, farmers grow crops to feed out in controlled sections to their animals.

Two years ago, campaigners' images similar to this prompted Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor to set up a winter grazing task force.

But there's concern it's not working.

"There's a significant amount of laggard farmers letting it down for the rest," Reid says.

Animal welfare campaigners condemn Otago, Southland farmers caught grazing stock on substandard paddocks
Photo credit: Geoff Reid / Supplied

Last year Newshub revealed videos from Southland of a dead deer in mud and a newborn calf trying to raise its head.

It's not just animal welfare at risk - this recent footage shows mud from winter grazing running into waterways.

"I want less winter grazing, and the winter grazing that we've got left I want it to be of better quality," Environment Minister David Parker says.

New regulations for intensive winter grazing should have come into force in May, but have been deferred until next year.

"It was on advice from my own officials as well as from regional councils," Parker says.

Animal welfare campaigners condemn Otago, Southland farmers caught grazing stock on substandard paddocks
Photo credit: Geoff Reid / Supplied

He admitted to Newshub Nation that pictures like this are a blow to New Zealand's image.

However, Environment Southland is confident farming standards are lifting.

It flew over farms this week, and says farmers have prepared well for winter grazing with only three landowners identified as potentially having some issues that need a closer look.

"We're seeing a vast improvement, a sustained improvement over the years. Farmers we think are much better equipped now and understand far better what the expectations are around those practices for winter grazing," Environment Southland's Fiona Young says.

Federated Farmers Southland vice-president Bernadette Hunt says the industry is working hard to lift up farmers that aren't performing as well.

"There are undoubtedly some that are dragging the chain, but every year there are less and less of those lower-edge performers," she says.

"It's really disappointing to see people continue to provide photos to various media outlets without reporting the location that allows industry to get alongside those farmers and actually make a difference to improve their practice."

The Ministry for Primary Industries inspected 39 farms between April and June to ensure farmers had plans in place for the winter. It says in the past month there've been nine mud-related complaints about farms in Southland and Otago, although none of those have resulted in animal welfare breaches.

"Damien O'Connor needs to put on farm animal inspectors out on the ground immediately," Reid says.

Cows showing how deep the mud is.
Cows showing how deep the mud is. Photo credit: Geoff Reid / Supplied

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says action is being taken.

"In April this year the 2021/22 Intensive Winter Grazing (IWG) Module was released to provide farmers clear guides on how to manage potential animal welfare and environmental impacts of the practice this winter," he told Newshub.

"The direction of travel is set and next year environmental regulations will come into place on IWG practice."

If anyone has concerns about animal welfare they should call the MPI Animal Welfare Complaints Hotline by telephoning 0800 00 83 33.