Theo Janssen had noticed topsoil disappearing down the drain on his family farm in the Owaka Valley, so he started looking around at what they could do and came across a composting system.

We farm on about 136 hectares, with an 80-82 hectare milking platform, and milking 200 cows.

We winter all our cows inside, and things can get pretty rough around here. The main focus for us on this farm is to look after our stock as well as we can. We’re feeding grain in the shed, and the focus is on making as much milk per cow and looking after them well as I said.

The main supplement we use in the wintering barn is just grass silage, as it keeps things simple.

When you start seeing your topsoil disappear down the drain you know something isn’t working. But then we felt that we really like to have our milkers inside as well on the days that they needed to be in the nights and that doesn’t work in the herd home.

So then we started looking around at what we could do and came across a composting system. We decided to go for a very wide structure, 24 metres wide which is nice, there are no issues at all for driving tractors through here, trucks can come in and tip a load of sawdust off without hitting the roof.

Cows travel a lot less, walking up and down, and especially if you want to feed them both sides, the wider the better I reckon.

Now we can keep all our cows inside all winter, but we also have the option of keeping our milkers inside, which we do. Generally from the first of May, they stay inside for eight or 10 hours a day, mainly also to capture the nutrients that they would otherwise lose and that’s been working well.

The composting floor will give us in the end some very good fertiliser that’s going to really help us on the farm as well and it’s an ideal place for a cow to lay in.

We started off by getting a good base layer of wood chip and then mainly sawdust on top, a little bit of wood chip through seems to work very well for us.

Part of the process of getting it to compost is trying to get as much air in as we can to get the oxygen to the bacteria so the process works. We’re ripping once a day, generally.

One of the things is if you rip it very deep the material gets really loose. The cows actually find it a bit hard to walk in. We’ve been trying to rip a bit less deep to make it slightly easier on the cows.

On good, frosty mornings or cold days, we definitely see a lot of steam coming out which clearly indicates that all your moisture is disappearing. Temperatures go up from between 40 and 50 degrees once things are working well.

The cows in here in the winter, they’re very happy. They’re very content, they turn into quiet cows as well, it’s easy to make sure they get enough to eat, and it really, really does work. The cows in the composting barn stay clean, way cleaner than in a herd home.

A SmartShelters advantage that lets you get control

One of the advantages of venturing inside is that you’ve got full control. The other advantage is that every winter you know what your cows are going to be like at the end of winter because they’re not affected by the climate in the same way, or not at all really.

Here the cows struggle to eat 10 kilos of dry matter. If you were to try and have them in the same condition on an outside system you’d have to feed them 14 to 16 kilos a day to get there.

We’re looking at a bit of a southerly coming through tonight, it can get a bit rough and they’re forecasting snow down to 200 metres so tonight we’ll split this barn up so the springers will be in the small part of it and then we have room to put all our milkers inside as well which is going to save the paddock and is going to save me a lot of sleep because I can actually sleep quietly.

We’re very happy with the decision to build the SmartShelters, it’s working really well for our business.