Gerald Holmes and his son Caleb look after 600 cows on 250 hectares in South Otago. They installed a composting barn which is used for wintering in-calf heifers and to offer good pasture all year round.

My name is Gerald Holmes. I’ve lived on part of this farm all my life and it’s been amalgamated now to be 250 hectares.

My son Caleb manages the dairy herd and I look after the cultivation on the farm. We have all the stock on, we don’t have a runoff, but we do buy in supplementary feed.

We milk 600 cows. They’re 500-kilo animals and we do 600 kilos per cow.

I look after the young stock so I was wanting to be able to care for them well, having done so throughout the rest of the season. Our soils get very wet, so this SmartShelter went in. It’s 20 metres wide and it’s aerated daily with a ripper.

The high roof certainly helps to allow good air movement through, but there’s also the safety feature that when you’re putting things in, somebody would have to be pretty silly to put something through the canvas cover.

This shed is just normally used for wintering in-calf heifers. I’ve tried to winter them on all grass which meant off-and-on grazing so the decision had to be made about when they came on or off. This is just more straightforward, it’s just a routine thing that happens. It is far more involved but we don’t pug paddocks. That meets both council and my needs so that I can just have good pastures coming out of the winter.

The actual monetary value I think would actually be neutral by the time we paid for the bedding and paid for the ripping. Coming out into the spring, the pasture can be growing all guns going as opposed to being damaged in the winter time.

To quantify it, it means that your spring is less busy because otherwise, I’d be drilling the damaged pasture.

This is our dairy herd and it’s a cold day but they seem really interested. They’ve already had a decent feed. We can make silage or we can top it up as a last resort to control the pasture.

SmartShelters composting barn helps year-round pasture

SmartShelters is part of that process so that we can offer good pasture all year round so that in the winter time they’re not pugging the ground, but otherwise be highly productive at this time of the year.

I cleaned this out prior to this winter and spread it out on the next crop paddock. Clearly, the amount of nutrients that are coming in here and the cows’ dung and everything else, has got to be of tremendous value to the farm.

The feeding out is done first thing and then it’s swept up with just one of these big slab bails on an angle. The cows are eating at the face so the ripping can be done on the rest of the pad. Because you got controlled feeding, they wouldn’t be eating 10 kilos a day, the in-calf heifers.

In here, the bedding, the woodchips about 600 deep, it’s ripped daily, and 160 cows, 10 square metres is about right for that number to have a good composting system going.

It’s particularly frosty mornings, there’s quite a bit of steam coming off. Quite interesting how much condensation runs down the edges of the building which shows that the moisture is coming out of the bedding material.

The material on the floor is so good that the calves that are coming off in this shed this year were just so clean and warm and happy when they’re up.

A properly composted bed would be ideal for the calves to survive and do well on.

When they come in here they absolutely love it. They’re reluctant to leave when we want to get them out onto the grass. They certainly enjoy the ambience of the building.

The plan was to put in a second SmartShelter near the cow shed for a calving pad. The new shed is slightly bigger and the intention was to have 200 cows in that shed.

To me, it was the only economic way that I could see of actually being able to winter the stock and meet the new regulations and it was something that we were more used to and our stock was more used to and our staff were more readily able to get used to.

From an economic point of view and from a cow comfort point of view I think it’s very difficult to beat the concept. SmartShelters seemed to be right up there with a very good product.