Juice is worth the squeeze for dairy farmers

Despite cost pressures, milk production is rising steadily at hi-tech Skimmelkrans Boerdery in George

Managing partner and dairy farmer George Kuyler, at Skimmelkrans Boerdery in George in the Western Cape
Managing partner and dairy farmer George Kuyler, at Skimmelkrans Boerdery in George in the Western Cape
Image: Deneesha Pillay

Every Monday, dairy farmer George Kuyler walks 27km across his family-run 300ha farm to ensure all is well.

Skimmelkrans Boerdery, a five-minute drive from the George Airport, has been operating since 1921 and is managed by Kuyler, his father and uncle.

Aside from the bond repayment costs for the lush green land, the general operational costs of Skimmelkrans amount to about R40m, which includes looking after 1,050 cows.

When it started, the farm produced about 200l of milk a day. Today, with the help of 37 permanent employees and advanced dairy-related technology, it produces 24,000l a day and needs 24-hour monitoring.

“Our cows are milked twice a day, every day, at 3.30am and 1.30pm,” Kuyler said.

“We are an industry that is driven by supply and demand.

“We are all aware of the challenges that come with the cost squeeze we all now face, and what that means is that we need to produce more with less resources.”

The milk sourced from Skimmelkrans is used to produce Nestlé Nespray FortiGrow milk powder at the firm’s Mossel Bay factory, 46km away.

Nestlé agricultural manager Hoven Meyer said the longstanding partnership with Skimmelkrans was an indication of the company’s commitment to support local farmers.

“We source the milk directly from the farm so we get involved with the farmer at grassroots level, mainly for traceability and quality. This includes ensuring the wellbeing of the farm employees,” he said.

“We aim to boost local employment as well as local farming. That’s why it’s important for us to source our raw materials, as far as possible, from local farmers and to operate in rural areas where employment is not in abundance,” he said.

As a fourth-generation farmer, Kuyler has been actively invested in agriculture since his early days and said he was proud to be contributing to the growing dairy industry in SA.

In producing the primary raw material for a nutritional product designed for schoolage children from four to 14, compromising on quality was never an option, he said.

The R15m dairy plant on the farm houses a hi-tech system which helps overcome the challenges of managing a perishable food product.

What looks like an industrial carousel inside the dairy is actually a rotating cow milking and feeding system.

The high-tech milking and feeding system inside the dairy at Skimmelkrans Boerdery
The high-tech milking and feeding system inside the dairy at Skimmelkrans Boerdery
Image: Deneesha Pillay

“The cows love this system. “They know when it’s feeding time. So come 1.30pm, they are lining up to be milked.

“The big drawcard to them is that we feed them here too.

“When the cow enters, the electronic tag in her ear is recognised by the computer system and gives her the exact composition of feed she needs.

“The computer can pick up if she needs more protein, fats, minerals or energy in her feed.

“So the system feeds every cow individually,” Kuyler said.

He said his cows could easily walk between 70,000 and 100,000 steps a day, and were monitored by a pedometer.

“Cows are incredible animals. A cow in her peak will produce her body weight in milk every 10 to 11 days. These ladies are extremely efficient.”

Alwyn Kraamwinkel, CEO of the SA Milk Processors Organisation, said Nestlé remained a highly respected company that made a significant contribution to generating profit and adding value to society.

Kraamwinkel commended Kuyler for his outstanding farming enterprise.

Skimmelkrans Boerdery, a five-minute drive from the George Airport, has been operating since 1921 and is managed by George Kuyler, his father and uncle. There currently 1,050 cows on the farm
Skimmelkrans Boerdery, a five-minute drive from the George Airport, has been operating since 1921 and is managed by George Kuyler, his father and uncle. There currently 1,050 cows on the farm
Image: Deneesha Pillay

“In the world context, the SA dairy industry is an exceptional industry.

“In this country, where market forces shape the industry, the understanding is that the industry is there to serve the needs of the community.

“The SA dairy industry is a growing industry. Over the last nine years, the average growth rate has been about 2.42%.”

In the past 20 years, the distribution and production of milk in SA have changed.

“We find that the area that the Mossel Bay factory sources milk from, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, increased their market share from 36% to 56% in the last 20 years.

“While we have a growing industry, we must understand that it is deeply rooted in rural development. It’s not just about the number of people employed – it’s about the transfer of skills and knowledge.”

He said in a competitive market no dairy farmer could succeed without a passion for nature and animals.

“This 24-hour, seven-day-aweek industry is hugely reliant on service delivery.

“We need teamwork not only between the farmers and corporations but also between local authorities and government to push this industry in a direction that benefits the whole of society.”


Much, much more to the moo

Skimmelkrans managing partner and farmer George Kuyler shared a number of interesting facts and details about what being in the dairy farming industry entails.

Dairy farmer, George Kuyler
Dairy farmer, George Kuyler
Image: Deneesha Pillay

Here is what the average person may not know about dairy farming:

  • To produce milk, cows need to be lactating. That means the cow has to be pregnant or must have recently given birth;
  • Pasture farming cows are highly active and can take up to 100,000 steps a day;
  • Ensuring that the cows produce the best quality milk is no easy task. They need constant monitoring and treatment procedures, including inoculations and deworming;
  • A pasture cow’s lifespan is measured in the form of lactation. On a pasture-based system, if a cow has five lactations, that could be equivalent to seven years;
  • Fertility and getting a cow pregnant is a crucial component to this type of farming. A cow’s body is mapped so she will be mated with a bull with the correct features that help the fluid drain naturally during calving [birth]; and
  • The milk produced cannot be exposed to open air. Released at a body temperature of about 38.5°C, the milk has to be cooled down as quickly as possible to about 5°C to avoid bacterial contamination.
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