Waikato couple's dairy farm bucks tradition with environmentally friendly 'mootel'

A Waikato couple who have set up New Zealand’s very first "mootel", saying it not only helps the environment, but it’s also boosted their bank balance and kept their cows happy.

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When it comes to dairy farming in this country, the term "barning" is usually met with a cringe. Source: Seven Sharp

Tony Allcock told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp he and his partner Fran built their cows a barn “just for comfort for the winter”, beginning with a shelter using wood chips as a base.

“We noticed it was heating up and creating heat. It was a local farm adviser that said we ought to change to a composting barn, and I'd never even heard of composting barn so we looked it up on the internet. The internet's a great thing,” Allcock said.

Inventor Fran said the "mootel" was "the obvious choice because it's accommodation for cows with room service, catering facilities and it's serviced daily".

The "mootel" serves as an all-season shelter, feed station and composting waste collector.

“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,” said Keith Woodford, a professor farm management.

“Graze your paddock for two hours, if it's only two hours and there's no poop or pee going on," Woodford explained.

"They're just eating. There's hardly much poop or pee going on, and they all come back [to the shelter] full of ticks and they empty out in the barns," Allcock added. 

The system means excess nitrogen stays in the barn, making it akin to an electric blanket, he said. 

The barn provides warmth and shelter for the cows in the winter, and serves as a shade in the summer.

After a year and a half, the compost goes back into the soil as a form of homemade fertiliser.

“At the moment, we are running an experiment of putting on zero fertiliser, so it's just the compost going on each year,” Allcock explained.

“The pastures have got thicker. We haven't got the weed content in the pasture anymore. We've got better pasture than we have ever had.”

The cows are also producing more milk than ever before, with the farm producing “up to 600 kilos a cow” over the 380-400 kilos previously.

"It's a win for cow comfort," Woodford said. “It’s also having a huge imprint on the environmental footprint and I see all the accounts and things stack up very, very nicely.”

Now in its seventh year, the couple are working with other farmers looking to build their own "mootels". 

"Probably the biggest thing is the satisfaction, as a farmer, of looking at your cows in good condition, performing well, doing more production I'd ever thought they could do," Allcock said.