KZN Young Farmer rolling with the dairy punches

Brandon Karg, KwaZulu-Natal’s 2007 Young Farmer of the Year, runs an extremely productive dairy farm by applying the best technology, taking control of the value chain, implementing an innovative approach to labour, and establishing his own transport system. Lloyd Phillips spoke to him.
Issue date 19 October 2007

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The South African dairy industry has, up until recently, faced some of its toughest times ever, battling against unsustainable prices for its products and increasing input costs, and having to compete against unreasonably cheap imports. Many dairy farmers have, willingly or grudgingly, packed up their businesses, and some only returned when prices started to peak again. However, some dairy producers refused to give in and who, through a combination of determination, hard work and a knack for turning around any disadvantage, continue to farm productively and provide valuable nutrition to the country.

Three generations of dairy farmers O ne of these is Brandon Karg, who was recently named the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union’s 2007 Young Farmer of the Year for his efforts. Brandon (32) has been married to Glynis since 1999. They have three children, Cameron (7), Brett (6) and Philippa (3), who absolutely love the farming environment they live in. He spent his whole childhood taking an active role in the Karg family’s respected dairy business, and it was no surprise that he eventually took over the reins, following in the footsteps of his father Neville and grandfather Harold.

“Glynis plays an integral part in the successful running of our business. She manages the finances, the payroll, general administration and calf-rearing, and helps me with dairy administration,” he says. Brandon places great emphasis on the genetics of his Holsteins and uses only artificial insemination, currently sourced from Holland through Xseed Genetics. Brandon says the company’s bull selection process has been very accurate and reliable in giving his dairy cows the traits he is looking for. What Brandon looks for in a cow The first of these traits is high, neat rear udders with close front-teat placement and a good medial ligament. This is because the herd is relatively high-producing and therefore the udders need to be durable and able to carry the higher milk volumes expected of them. Brandon’s herd is milked three times a day and currently averages 29ℓ per day per cow. is top cow currently produces an astounding average of 62ℓ a day. Brandon has further requirements.

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I also want cows with good feet and legs, a good spring of rib and low pins, because the animals have to be able to stand on concrete and walk long distances between the milking parlours and the pastures. like medium-framed cows because they are best suited to our pasture and partial mixed ration (PMR) set-up.” Feeding system At present the Karg herd grazes rye pasture three times a day and eats a small quantity of roughage (PMR) in their massive free stall barn before going into the milking parlour. Dairy concentrate is fed during milking. Their feeding system varies according to season. n rainy weather the cows are kept in the barn to keep their udders clean and prevent their hooves from making a muddy mess of the farm’s roads.

D uring winter Brandon keeps the herds in the barn after the morning milking sessions so the cows don’t trample the frosted ryegrass and damage it. Taking control of transporting his own milk “I now sell my milk to Dewfresh Dairy in Mpumalanga and run my own transport fleet, Kamberg Valley Milk, in partnership with John Armstrong, a fellow dairy farmer, says Brandon. “I realised there was a shortage of and demand for milk in and around Gauteng, as more and more farmers gave up dairying due to the unsustainable milk price. After at least a year of thought and many calculations I followed my gut feeling and took my milk out of KZN,” says Brandon. Kamberg Valley Milk owns two 32 000ℓ rigs that transport 42 000ℓ milk daily to Dewfresh.

The smart clean trucks are branded with both the KVM and Dewfresh names, creating a marketing opportunity for both companies while also indirectly promoting milk to the general public. Brandon still supplies a small percentage of his milk to the local dairy industry through Midlands Milk, a company created by a group of local dairy farmers in November 2006. Through the company, the farmers can now influence the price they get for their milk. Adopting top technology In line with his innovative ideas on the KVM partnership, Brandon has embraced the benefits of modern technology which he believes can improve his dairy enterprise’s efficiency. His father Neville, who was instrumental in bringing the business to where it is today, had similar views.

199In 1996 the Karg family installed one of the first rotary milking parlours in KZN. This 36-point parlour allowed them to milk their cows three times a day instead of two, as it was a much faster process that took the strain off the udders of their high-producing herd. The parlour can milk double the number of cows in the same time period as their original system, allowing the Kargs to expand their herd at a time when economies of scale are becoming a key feature of dairy farming. Upgrading to a state-of-the-art system However, after 10 years in operation, the milking equipment needed to be upgraded, along with the dairy management software, to keep the business economically sustainable. In February 2006 Brandon invested in the state-of-the-art, Israeli-designed and -built Afikim Milking and Dairy Management System. “Installing the Afikim system required me to change almost everything, from milk meters to computers, and everything is now fully computerised. Since then I have installed a new 10-a-side herringbone milking parlour which also runs entirely on the Afikim System on my second farm, where I have a newly-acquired 100ha pivot on ryegrass pastures.”

T he benefits of technology Brandon and Glynis agree the Afikim system has revolutionised their dairy operation. The system can measure aspects such as milk volumes, milk flow rates and milk conductivity. The latter is essential in the very early detection of mastitis, and Brandon has been able to dramatically reduce the farm’s intramammary drug usage and active mastitis cases. Each cow wears an activity meter tag on her leg which is read by the computer at each milking, assisting in heat detection. This is a dramatic improvement over the old heat-spotting system. Massive feed savings Among many other features the system also weighs cows at every milking, enabling the Kargs to better regulate in-parlour concentrate feeding. Brandon has reduced the ratio of concentrate consumption to milk production volumes from 340g/ℓ to 230g/ℓ without negatively affecting milk production or cow weight – a phenomenal cost saving for the business.

“My cows have never been in such perfect condition throughout their lactations. The system feeds a thinner cow more and a fatter cow less, depending on her milk yield, body condition score at calving and stage of lactation,” says Brandon. “Through a wireless network, I can sit in my office at home and access any data collected by the Afikim system at either of my parlours, work on the system and make instant changes. This is a great help with my herd management,” he explains. A ccurate input is essential “However, while the Afikim system collects a lot of its own data, it also relies on the users to input other equally important information. This system is wasted if you don’t spend time using and analysing the data it provides,” Brandon points out. “If there is any advice I could give farmers in South Africa, it is that they should remain positive and enthusiastic about what they do, and be adaptable to change. They should stay in touch with what’s happening on their farm at all times, and not be afraid of technology.” Contact Brandon Karg on 082 562 4838. |fw