Recently I was invited to address the Society of Master Dairymen in KwaZulu-Natal. Unfortunately, I botched the opportunity of delivering a talk on the basics of cow nutrition due to a malfunctioning overhead projector. This was intended to substantiate my statement that technology is outstripping common sense. The current standards for membership admission to the society are far removed from the simplicity of the original standards set in 1978.
Then, a farmer had to have a minimum of 20 cows on official milk recording with a butterfat content of 3,3% and milk yields of 5 000kg for Frieslands, 3 800kg for Jerseys and 4 250kg for Ayreshires and Guernseys. In 1980, the managing editor of Hoards Dairyman informed me that the recorded herds in America were averaging 5 442kg of milk over millions of cows. Our standards were thus very conservative.
Whether the Society of Master Dairymen in KwaZulu-Natal was a stimulus to higher achievements, or economic considerations played a role is unknown but Table 1 shows the KwaZulu-Natal figures from August 1995.
South africa’s production
According to Phillip Swart and Koos Coetzee of the Milk Producers’ Organisation, the latest statistics on milk production indicate that South Africa produces 2,6 billion litres per annum or 7, 4 million litres per day, supplied by 2 200 dairy farmers. This averages out at 3 356l per producer from a national herd size of an estimated 540 000 cows in milk. Average yield per cow is therefore 13,7l per day or 4 109l per 300-day lactation.
All these figures can serve as a guide as to where we should be going. To quote Master Dairyman Charles MacGillivray, “You cannot go forward without knowing where you have come from.” With diminishing feed margin profits, the only way out is expansion of dairy herds in number and cow production. We cannot afford importation of dairy products but should be looking for export outlets in the rest of Africa.
Malcolm Stewart-Burger founded the Society of Master Dairymen and designed the Maxi Milk System. He is currently a part-time consultant to Nutex Feeds and De Heus. Contact Malcolm at [email protected]. Please state ‘Milking for profit’ in the subject line of your email.