William Khourie has been farming for 45 years. The family farm, Bosparadys, is managed in a multi-pronged style with William and his sons Joe, Anthony and Pieter, heading up various units. William says their success can be attributed to teamwork and the individual expertise and knowledge each person brings to the operation.
In fact, he jokes that with such skilled sons he could be redundant. But keeping a dairy in business for 26 years is no easy task. And the skills of a manager able to grow his business 16%, 15% and 20% consecutively in the last three years, cannot be understated.
With four farmers from the same family working in the business, William says possible conflict problems are talked out immediately so that there is no chance of simmering resentment. “We don’t hold monthly meetings where you talk and talk and nothing gets done.” Anthony is in charge of feed planning and production, and runs a stable feed bank that provides the fodder flow for continuous dairy production. Joe manages the dairy herd and the heifer herd.
About 17 years ago Bosparadys began to package and distribute its own milk. Company marketing manager Pieter, has established the Bosparadys brand in a highly competitive market.
Dairy makes up 80% of the farm’s total income. There are 1 200 dairy animals, including 700 cows in milk, dry cows and heifers and seven bulls. The herd’s average lactation is four, but there are cows that have been milking for 12 years. The average inter-calving period (ICP) is 400 days.
Bosparadys processes 40 000l of milk a day, half of which they produce themselves, while the rest is purchased from other dairy farmers in the area. They also make yogurt on the farm, and cheese with a partner in Brits. Dairy produce is distributed to 200 outlets in Gauteng and North West.
Anthony tries to ensure a balance between longevity, reproduction and a reasonable milk production. Cows milk an average of 30l/day with butterfat at 3,6%. He says the production figure could be increased, but this would mean extra pressure on the cows. The bull calves are raised and sold to a feedlot at a weight of about 200kg. Anthony says the dairy industry is currently experiencing difficulties.
“Small dairies are a thing of the past, as dairying doesn’t pay without the volumes. You can’t make money producing 1 000l of milk a day. We’re all in a race to keep up with input costs. If our production falls by 15% we can’t pay our bills.” The family plans to expand Bosparadys. “My sons are still young so we can grow. I’d like to add 300 cows to the herd and put up a cheese factory. We’ll also invest in technologies that prolong the shelf life of milk,” says William.
Although the dairy is the biggest operation on the farm, the Khouries have branched out into other farming activities.
“Nearly 90% of the farmers in the North West Province didn’t have a crop this year because of the drought. But we were able to rely on other forms of income. Since we’re a big family it’s easier for us to manage a business this size,” explains William.
About 1 100ha dryland crops supply the herd’s total mixed ration (TMR) requirements. The farm produces between 12 000t and 15 000t of silage a year and 6 000 to 7 000 bales of hay of 200kg each. Concentrates are bought in and added to the ration. Soya and maize are planted on 700ha and 400ha is used for Eragrostis.
The maize and soya are planted in a two-year-maize, one-year-soya rotation. Bosparadys has 20ha of irrigated land under pivot that is used to cultivate maize in the summer and ryegrass in the winter. After the sheep have grazed the ryegrass, maize is planted directly into the pasture, following no-till principles.
Chickens, pigs and game
The 20 000 Amberlink and Highline laying hens, have an 85% laying rate and produce about 1 420 dozen eggs a day. Eggs and milk are marketed through the same outlets. The egg operation creates jobs for the workers’ wives. William points out that 90% of employees involved in the dairy and chicken production units are women. Anthony says that chicken manure used on Eragrostis lands significantly improves soil health.
About 300 Landrace and Large White pigs are fed dairy products that have passed their expiry date or been sent back from retailers. Game animals graze alongside 1 500 Suffolk sheep on pastures. Jackal numbers are managed by hunting and not through poison in order to preserve the vulture population that often feeds on carcasses. (FW note: it is a criminal offence to poison animals other than rodents) Animal carcasses are taken to a specifically allocated area.
“This has led to an increase in the vulture population in the area and a decrease in the number of attacks that the remaining jackals make on small game,” says Anthony. Apart from making their own silage, the Khouries do some contract silage making for surrounding farms on about 500ha.
The farm employs 200 permanent workers, all of whom are housed with their families by the Khouries. William says that there is not one child on the farm who is malnourished and all the children have good school uniforms. The Khouries believe that job creation has a direct impact on reducing crime and William reports that there is a low incidence of crime in the area.
“We start here in taking care of a community. We can’t do all of this work on the farm alone so we need good workers,” says William. Anthony adds that he does not mechanise to the detriment of the workers. “I’d rather buy one less tractor and employ more people,” he says.
He believes that farmers should think carefully about the minimum wage. “Obviously one always tries to pay the lowest possible price for anything. But there needs to be a realisation that people can’t live on abysmally low salaries. The workers are one of our biggest assets and we need to look after them. “Mechanisation is cheaper, but fewer jobs means more crime. A hungry person is bound to steal.”
The Khouries are well-known in the community for always being ready to lend a helping hand. Local villagers living on the borders of Bosparadys have shown gratitude to the Khouries for helping them with their farming ventures. This includes helping with distribution and marketing of produce, mentorship and financial assistance. Although the farm has a land claim registered on it, the Khouries have continued to invest and farm as they always have.
William says successful farmers are not averse to taking risks. “But always have a plan B in case things don’t go your way. We took a risk to invest on the farm despite there being a land claim. We get on well with the claimants, who live on the property next door. They’re happy to have us continue with our farming operations because of the job creation and investment in the area that comes with our business.”
The Khouries ascribe their success to running the farm by example, and never putting off till tomorrow what can be done today. William says that perseverance is important for facing and overcoming challenges. “My sons have been brought up on a farm and they drive the business with the same dedication I have. I’ve been blessed with sons that like the smell of the soil when it’s ploughed – and that’s priceless.”
This article was originally published in the 6 December 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.