Long-Term Planning

In the Turner family’s modern dairy, where hi-tech equipment provides a constant flow of data and experts provide backup, the goal isn’t short-term profit, but long-term success, writes Robyn Joubert.
Issue date : 26 September 2008

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Chip and Bessie Turner and their sons Tom and Sven run four dairy farms in Fort Nottingham in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Since the start of their dairy enterprise in 1971, with 90 cows of different breeds, the Turners have experienced an almost straight line of growth to 850 commercial Holsteins today. The herd is split over the four closely situated farms. Tom manages the first farm, Kingussie, which runs 350 calves from first day to nine months.

Heifers are then transferred to a heifer farm until first lactation and then brought back to the calf farm. Sven manages the farm with the lead herd of 300 cows from second lactation until they produce more than 30â„“/day. Managers run the third dairy of 100 end-of-lactation and cull cows, as well as the heifer farm that has about 600 heifers. Running four small farms means management costs are high.

“We have invested heavily in management,” says Tom. “Excluding family members, we have three managers. Even so, and I are actively involved every day. We believe the benefit of having an intensive management team benefits the farm through yield, performance and quality of life for ourselves and our managers.”

Technology and skills development
To make this manager-intensive business work the Turners chase milk volume. “We use an intensive model based on maximum production per cow,” explains Tom. “We run our cows in a pasture system, using annual rye grass, kikuyu and maize silage as a basis, and feed our cows well.” Technology is crucial to the dairy’s success and Kingussie sports a new 50-point Rockwood Rotary dairy with a Waikato Milking Machine and Afikim dairy management system. “The herd-management system helps us know our cows,” says Tom.

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 “It provides us with crucial parameters including cow weight, milk yield and disease control information. The system allows us to notice deviations from the norm in individual cows or in the group.

This enables us to quickly notice sick cows. Our mortality rate is a third of what it used to be and we know exactly what’s going on. If you can afford a dairy like this the technological challenge is taken out of farming and then it becomes more of a leadership challenge to get the most out of staff.” The Turners have a formal skills development programme in place.

“An internship programme for our own staff identifies leadership potential and enables us to plan the succession of supervisors to managers,” says Tom. “Staff spend two years learning our system of milking cows. We also use surveillance cameras to pick up mistakes and make improvements based on the close monitoring of first lactation cows, because they’re still growing and can be difficult to feed. Well-trained staff mean effective cow management.”

Feed and health
 Feeding the cows averages out at about R647/cow/month. “We make all our own silage,” explains Tom. “Our cows’ diet is a third concentrate, a third maize silage and a third grass, averaged out over the whole year based on cow weight.” The investment in animal health is based on prevention rather than cure. “Cows are given mineral supplements based on body weight, independent of production,” explains Tom. “We follow an intensive herd-health programme that includes a strict inoculation protocol from birth throughout lactation.”

The family has good calf-rearing facilities. Calves are fed whole milk until they are four-months-old, then switched to 2kg each of top-quality calf meal until nine months. A dedicated heifer manager checks on the heifers twice a day. This investment in heifer rearing results in high-lactation figures. First lactation averages based on a 305 day rotation are about 8 000â„“, with exceptional cows at 15 000â„“. Second lactation averages are about 11 000â„“ on the 305 day rotation. A reliable network of external support is also important to the efficient running of the farm.

 “Our performance is directly linked to the service and advice we get from vets, nutritionists, feed companies, technicians, the bank and our financial analyst,” admits Tom. “We follow a system developed at Cedara in the 1970s. It’s not our goal to be the most profitable dairy farmers, but rather to be in the business in the long term. This means investing in genetics, soil fertility equipment and staff training on a sustainable basis.” Contact Tom Turner on (033) 266 6957. |fw

Beef’s better image

Charged with promoting local beef from funds derived from the statutory levy, the South African Feedlot Association (SAFA) with representation from inter alia the RPO requested consumer feedback.

The South African Feedlot Association (SAFA) is responsible for promoting local beef, and has done research to determine the effectiveness of its promotion campaign. T he research tested the levels of awareness of South African beef advertising, as well as the levels of exposure, or frequency of seeing and hearing the advertisements. Another objective was to identify if the campaign was conveying the key message of beef’s versatility, message recall and perceptions of beef and local beef. Media impact and message content, including visual content, were also tested.

 Finally, the overall effectiveness of the campaign, and aspects in need of improvement were tested. Small-scale research included focus group discussions (black female and white female/male), with 140 personal interviews done in Gauteng. he research was successfully completed, analysed and evaluated against objectives. It asked whether the campaign was reaching the target market and successfully conveying key messages and positively affecting image perceptions and the usage of beef. Various measures were used to gauge effectiveness.

The influence of the campaign, message recall, perceptions of beef, etc, indicate that advertising in 2007 had been very effective. his is especially positive considering the low budget allocation, offset by media deals, and the low frequency levels achieved at customer level. Beef remains attractive and interesting to the market and this should be exploited. Minor aspects of the campaign content can be improved but these are secondary to increasing reach and frequency.

The following possibilities can be considered:
• Raise campaign budget and expenditure.
• Relook at the media mix.
• Include in-store materials. he research also indicated black and white people were at different stages regarding advertising exposure or response; the usage of beef; exposure to variety and information. The frequency of advertising was important. Black respondents wanted more information and education, while whites wanted reminders and stimulation to keep up beef usage.

Those who cooked didn’t want to think about what to prepare. A meal planner and information about beef cuts, as well as how to prepare them, might be a good marketing tool.