Fonterra farmer-owners Tony and Fran Allcock have set up New Zealand’s very first “mootel”, saying it not only helps the environment, but it’s also kept their cows happy and business healthy.
TVNZ1’s Seven Sharp
It now serves as an all-season shelter, feed station and composting waste collector. These things combined have made day-to-day farming operations more efficient for Tony and Fran, especially with waste.
As Tony explains “The compost sits there for about six months before it’s then spread as fertiliser over the whole farm, maize paddocks and grass paddocks and that is all self-draining down through the weeping wall and back through the green water pond, so the system allows everything to be contained.”
He says it’s been four years since he’s used conventional fertiliser except for 2019’s drought, and it’s kept his soil and business healthy.
“I’ve been monitoring the soil levels with the soil test and they’re all holding at pretty good levels. The cost of spreading the fertiliser has decreased by about 50 per cent and I put it on at a time where plants are growing so it can be used by the plants. It keeps my paddocks nice and green,” Tony says.
But he cautions, this is not barn farming like they do in some dairy farms overseas. Theirs is an open-air barn where the cows are free to come and go from the grassy paddocks as they please. Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management says, “The concept has been around for about 20 years in the Midwest of the United States, but what Tony and Fran are doing here is different in a grazing situation.”
Tony says one of the benefits is it’s providing extra warmth during the colder seasons and shade to protect them from the heat during summer. It’s also allowing the grass to grow more than ever before, because cows are doing less damage to the paddocks.
“The rest of the time they’ll be out in the paddocks getting their grass. While they’re away we do room service, we stir the compost in the barn, and scrape the lane so it’s all nice and clean for when they come back. We also put in their daily rations of maize and straw.”
Their farm that sits between Pirongia and Te Awamutu has become a trailblazer for more sustainable farming, getting them featured on TV and piqued the interest of other farmers.
“There’s huge interest, we’ve had hundreds of farmers come visit, people fly up from the South Island to come visit regularly and we know there are some barns being built at the moment,” says Allcock.
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When asked about the future of their farm, Tony says the barn has been an important part to keeping them in a healthy position and he would love to see other farmers use composting barns in the future. However, he’s doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the hard work it’s been.
“It is a commitment, anyone looking to do these barns or put the mootel up, it’s religious work in that every day you must stir the compost. The idea is keeping it fluffed up and allowing the oxygen through and dries the bedding out.”
The commitment has paid off for Tony and Fran and has allowed them to become more sustainable. The farm has been in the family for four generations now, and they’ve been suppliers of Fonterra for as long as he can remember.
He’s hopeful that the mootel will only lead towards more sustainable thinking for farmers.
“We’ve been here as a family for 130 years now, with my son being the fourth-generation farmer, and this is our seventh season having the mootel. I am quite proud of how we’ve got it all set up, everything is contained, our water usage is designed to re-use as much as we can, and we capture any run-off of the compost so it’s all squeaky clean”
“It’s a great way ahead of how we can solve a lot of the issues that are facing us.”