“Dairy farming has become a lot more scientific and intense in the last 15 years or so.”
– Brett Puttergill
Brett Puttergill is a third-generation dairy farmer in Thornhill in the Eastern Cape. This quote encapsulates how much dairy farm practices have changed with technology and innovation. Dairy farming requires a time heavy commitment coupled with attention to detail and a heightened awareness.
As Dr Carel Muller says, quoted on RSG’s Landbou programme, “Milking is controlled chaos.” The chain from pasture to parlour to producer looks very different in the 21st century to even the last few years of the 20th century.
The rapid rise and ever evolving nature of technology has impacted all industry and all aspects of life. Although one may associate advances in tech with the high-rise corporate towers and skyscrapers that symbolise city empires, access to cutting edge machinery has revolutionised daily cycles on dairy farms.
Milking has gone from being done by hand for decades and even centuries to combinations of manual and automatic to state-of-the-art rotaries which increase production tenfold.
The DeLaval E100 60-point rotary
An exciting development, in this regard, is the first purchase of the DeLaval E100 60-point rotary in South Africa and Africa.
As reported in the March 2021 edition of the Dairy Mail (MPO’s publication for the dairy industry), the rotary was bought by KwaZulu-Natal farmer and vet, Dr Graham Carr. This acquisition signals an exciting development for not only the advancement of South African milking techniques, but provides continent wide inspiration for farmers to know that dreaming big is possible and achievable. A resilient attitude to keep going is a strong genetic strain in both dairy farmer and cattle, it would seem.
Feeding techniques are also vastly improved with this innovation. A report entitled ‘Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector: The role of the dairy sector in a low-carbon future was released in 2020 by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Global Dairy Platform. Among many findings was evidence for the promotion of better feed and feeding management techniques.
As Dr Carr highlights below, production statistics have already shown growth with the DeLaval rotary and dairy that was subsequently built on the farm.
“We moved into the new dairy in mid-November 2020 and feed efficiencies improved immediately by 9%.”
Improved feed efficiencies
This is absolutely in line with what the report recommends when it states:
Feed and feeding management:
‘Increasing feed efficiency by optimising the energy and protein content in feed, and by using precision feeding techniques to match animal requirements with dietary nutrient supply. Farmers should use more locally produced feed and source low-emission feeds, as well as store more carbon in the soil through better grassland management.’
Innovation pioneers groundbreaking best practice, allowing healthy herds to flourish. The ability of a technology to individualise and automate feed ingredients to complement each cow’s needs is incredible. As Dr Carr explains below:
“Her unique feed requirements are calculated automatically by DeLaval’s DelPro software, according to variables like milk production, body weight change, and days in milk.”
Sustainability is an important part of best practice
Innovation in sustainable practises is paramount to the survival of dairy farming on both a local and continental level.
As reported in the August 2020 edition of Milk Essay (Milk/Melk SA’s industry publication):
‘Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the products they buy, more and more dairy producers and processors invest in technology to enhance wastewater treatment, soil maintenance, staff housing, energy conservation and recyclable packaging materials.’
Trends can at times be harmful. Especially if they are fuelled by fake news and social media influencers who have not conducted correct research. But the South African dairy industry is encouraging important conversations by providing platforms for the healthy exchange of ideas and concerns. Already in 2019, ahead of an unknown global pandemic, industry bodies held space for conversation.
The SA Society of Dairy Technology (SASDT) held a symposium with the theme Cultivating a sustainability culture in the dairy industry. It highlighted the importance of partnerships between processors and producers as essential to enhancing business ethics, efficiency and competitiveness.
In addition, two important articles have been written by Dr Meissner (Milk SA’s R and D Programme Manager) to highlight ethics and the importance of improved technologies.
They are entitled ‘An earth without livestock’ and ‘Ethical consumerism and sustainable production’.
Technical innovation and ethics need to work together as they are both aspects of best practice.
The internet provides unprecedented access to knowledge on both an objective and subjective level. But the basis of decisions constantly needs to be made by scientific and on the ground facts. Dairy farmers know milk production the best. The advent of technology like state-of-the-art rotaries compliments the questions and quests for solutions to the partnership between technological advancements and best sustainable practice in dairy farming.