LOW labour costs and an intensive cow management system has a South African dairy farm near Dundee pushing towards a herd average of 32 litres a day. By: JENNY KELLY
The 3000ha farm has been in development since 2006 and is managed by Kevin Fedderke on behalf of family. It is milking 850 Friesian cows.
Taking advantage of low wages in Africa, the property has a permanent staff of 100 workers and this enables it to operate in ways that would not be feasible in Australia.
Mr Fedderke said their focus was on maximising production from each cow.
The herd is milked three times a day in a 60-unit rotary; the first milking starts at 5am, the second at about 1pm and the last miking starts after 8pm at night and can go as late as midnight.
He said the highest performing cows were doing up to 60 litres a day.
The herd is artificial insemination Friesian bred, with US genetics, which has an obvious influence on cow style and frame size.
Mr Fedderke said they monitored milk production each week and the cows were drafted and fed according to performance.
When The Weekly Times visited last month workers were tagging cows with electronic Allflex buttons as part of an upgrade to improve milk data collection using a program called Milk Friend.
He said the old system had required workers to key in the eartag number of each cow as it stepped onto the rotary platform, but it resulted in a lot of human error, with some milkers having favourite numbers.
“At the end of the week we had cows doing hundreds of litres a day and others which hadn’t been milked at all,’’ he said, highlighting the challenge of monitoring a big workforce of various skill levels.
The cows are kept undercover on river sand, to improve drainage and help with mastitis, in a network of sheds close to the main dairy.
Mr Fedderke said the cows were drafted into groups based on production, the top group doing 40 litres plus a cow; the next group 37.5 litres and above; then 25 litres plus; and a low group on 20 litres and less.
The highest performers were on a feed ration equivalent to 17 per cent protein.
He said the property, which is in a 650mm rainfall area and has some irrigation, grew 30 per cent of its feed with the balance purchased.
Feeds used include brewers grain, maize silage, green cut oats, and hay.
He said feed costs were 55 South African rand, known as ZAR, per cow per day, which equates to about $5.70/cow/day. The milk price was at ZAR5.10 a litre, or about 53c.
Mr Fedderke said the herd average was at 28.5 litres a day, and they were working towards lifting this to 32 litres.
At 28.5 litres the cow gross about $15 a day, for a feed cost conversion of nearly 3:1.
However, Mr Fedderke said the property was still in a development phase and was not yet profitable.
“You need 1000 cows to break even,’’ he said.
“But we can see in the future that if we have 1000 to 1200 cows doing 32 litres a day then we will be smiling.’’
The property’s labour force was a fascinating element of the enterprise.
Mr Fedderke said they had work teams dedicated to tasks, such as detecting cow heats and bringing up animals for AI, because the herd calves all year round. There were also calf rearers, shed cleaners and workers who just deal with pastures and irrigation.
As a guide he said the average wage was about ZAR3500 a month, or about $370/month or $4440 annually.
Source: The Weekly Times