Expanding a dairy enterprise

South Africans consume a mere 145ml of milk per person per day – so there’s room for expansion. But how? In fact, farmers have several options.

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A ccording to Bertus de Jong, CEO of the Milk Producers Organisation, South Africa had about 53 000 dairy farmers in 1971, when the national dairy herd numbered approximately 900 000 cows. At present, an estimated 2 600 dairy farmers remain, milking about 600 000 cows. The average herd size is 231 cows.

Total milk production has, however, increased significantly due to genetic and management progress. Current national annual milk production is about 2,7 billion litres, with an average annual consumption of around 53l per person. That equates to a mere 145ml per person per day. Shocking!

But these trends aren’t unique to SA. They’re a fact of life in every major milk-producing country in the world. However, Bertus says the potential growth in consumption could be between 4% and 5% per year. How do dairy farmers expand their operations?

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There are several options:

  • Purchase additional land to produce fodder crops and set up milking facilities. This may be an unwise move in the light of government’s land redistribution policies, but if you do take this option, then first and second calvers can conveniently be separated from the more mature cows.
  • Phase feeding for pasture farmers. Calculate the profit margin over feed. Add the cost of buying commercially formulated feed at 25kg/cow/day. Then divide this sum by the income per litre (See Figure 1). With the genetic potential of our cows, a production of 39l/day during the first 100 days of lactation is achievable.
  • Contract maize growers in your immediate area to produce silage. Buy lucerne, hay and concentrate and blend a complete ration tailored to the cow’s needs.
  • An independent contractor. The number of dry cows and heifers in your herd will also grow with expansion, so consider having your heifers reared by an independent contractor.

A prominent dairy farmer, Charles MacGillivray of Gartmore Farm in the Karkloof Valley, KZN, is fond of asking: “Do you farm for sanity or vanity?” A good question! And at the end of the day, does it really matter exactly how you choose to expand your operation? Surely the most important thing is that you do so!

Malcolm Stewart-Burger has over 40 years experience in ruminant husbandry, 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.FW