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Mud Farming in New Zealand

Mud farming (also known as intensive winter grazing) is one of the most overtly cruel and environmentally damaging farming practices in Aotearoa.  

Animals are forced to live and give birth in cold, wet mud through the winter season. This practice causes extreme discomfort to animals and severely pollutes our freshwater.  

A total ban on mud farming is urgently needed to safeguard animals and the integrity of our natural environment.  

Made to live in mud

The winter weather and the high number of animals crowded into each paddock causes the ground to become extremely muddy, with animals seen standing up to their knees, or even up to their bellies, in sludge. They are provided little to no shelter from rain and snow, and with nowhere clean and dry to lie down, they have no option but to rest, and even give birth, in mud.

Animals also struggle to access food and clean drinking water. These conditions can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, painful hoof problems, mastitis, diseases, dental issues, injuries, and even death.

Mud farming violates the Animal Welfare Act 1999 because it does not meet the physical, health, and behavioural needs of animals.

Clean, green Aotearoa?

As cows intensively trample wet soil, it becomes severely degraded and compacted until it can no longer support life or prevent pollutants from entering our waterways.

Dairy production is already the largest source of freshwater pollution in Aotearoa. Due to waste run-off and the high use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser by New Zealand’s dairy industry, 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of extinction, 82% of waterways in farming areas are unfit for swimming, and up to 800,000 (17%) of Kiwis may be consuming drinking water at nitrate levels associated with increased rates of bowel cancer and pre-term birth.

Mud farming threatens to worsen freshwater pollution, posing a grave risk to biodiversity and human health.

We could see more mud farms

The government have proposed amendments to the Resource Management Act (RMA) that would scrap the few regulations we have on mud farming. This would result in more of this harmful practice, instead of less.

The proposed amendments to the RMA are the latest in a string of regressive and destructive policies from the coalition government which stand to exacerbate animal cruelty and environmental degradation.

Alongside resisting this reckless Bill, SAFE will be campaigning for a total ban on mud farming.

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Mud farming FAQ's

The high number of animals kept on farms is too much for the land to handle.  If animals were rotated around the farm during winter, all the paddocks would turn to mud. Instead, animals are crowded into designated paddocks to preserve the rest of the pasture. Instead of grass, these designated paddocks are planted with annual forage crops (such as swedes, kale, and fodder beet). However, these are eaten quickly, and the ground rapidly deteriorates to mud.  

Since it’s common to see cows and sheep in the rain and in muddy conditions in Aotearoa, it’s easy to think that such conditions are normal and natural for these animals. This is not true. Making animals live in the mud is just as cruel to do to cows and sheep as it would be to do to dogs or cats. Farmed animals don’t live without shelter because they don’t mind the mud and rain, but because they are given no choice. If provided with shelter, animals will use it to seek refuge from poor weather, and they strongly prefer rest in clean, dry spaces. 

Providing animals with shelter is a requirement under New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act, and mud farming violates this basic welfare provision.  

Cows and sheep feel the cold, but the temperature at which the cold starts to bother them depends on various factors. 

Cows start to become uncomfortably cold at temperatures under 4 degrees Celsius, and sheep at temperatures lower than 7 degrees Celsius. However, pregnancy, illness, and having a low amount of body fat are all factors that would make these animals more affected by the cold. Being wet also makes animals colder, so on mud farms where animals are constantly wet and muddy, they are more likely to be adversely impacted by the temperature. Newborn animals are also at risk of hypothermia at much warmer temperatures than adult animals, which is why so many newborn lambs, and many calves, die on mud farms.  

It’s important to remember that the cold should not be a concern only when it is bad enough to cause death to animals. Animals can experience a lot of suffering due to the cold long before it is severe enough to cause hypothermia, just like we can.  

Farmers deliberately plan for cows and sheep to give birth during winter to maximise profits, even though it causes great suffering to the animals who must give birth, and those who are born, in the rain, snow, and mud. Mother cows and sheep who would naturally seek somewhere sheltered and dry to deliver their baby, are forced to watch their newborns suffer and even die in the harsh conditions. 

Mud farming is one of the cruelest farming practices in Aotearoa. Animals are condemned to live in cold, wet mud through the winter season, struggling to access clean drinking water, food, and shelter. Animals on mud farms have been seen to suffer from higher rates of lameness, dehydration, malnutrition, disease, discomfort, injury, and even death.  

Animals on mud farms must also compete to access food, water, and lying space, leading to negative social interactions. This is a highly stressful living environment.  

Cows must lie down for up to 12 hours per day to support rest and digestion. Cows respond adversely to muddy or wet conditions, and strongly prefer to live on pasture.  

Some farms confine animals indoors in enormous barns instead of mud farming, but this also presents issues for animals. Animals are still kept in overcrowded conditions and have no access to pasture to support their health and welfare, just like on mud farms.  

Ultimately, it’s clear that the number of animals being farmed is incompatible with high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. To address this, there needs to be a decline in demand for animal products. More and more Kiwis are already seeing the appeal of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives. The best way for individuals to make a difference for animals suffering in the agricultural sector is to remove animal products from our plates.

Mud farming is a common, widespread, and standard practice in Aotearoa, although it is more common in the Southern regions. It is endorsed by the major farming groups in Aotearoa including Fonterra, DairyNZ, Beef&Lamb, and Federated Farmers. Open Country has also been accused of mud farming, and McDonalds has come under fire for being supplied by farms that use this practice.  

Animals on mud farms have been seen to suffer from digestive complications. This is due to the high-grain diets they are fed on mud farms and the lack of access to pasture, which is needed to support rest, digestion, and rumination. 

Pugging is a dangerous phenomenon that can be caused by animals intensively trampling wet soil on mud farms. It refers to a severe breakdown and compaction of soil which leads to poor drainage, inhibited plant growth, greater fertiliser requirements and increased waste run-off into waterways contributing to further freshwater pollution. 

Animals on mud farms become malnourished and dehydrated because the deep mud is difficult to walk through, and animals struggle to access water and food. In the absence of pasture, there is often not enough food supplied to maintain digestive health, and many animals must compete to access what little food is available.

Animals can become injured on mud farms, including fractures and broken legs due to mud, as well as from fencing and equipment.   

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.