Lucky Daisy

By Marianne van Niekerk on 19 September 2016

FARM 360 AND CARE FOR THE ORIGIN OF YOUR FOOD!  The welfare of the animals that supply us with our food is directly linked to the quality of the product supplied. Happy cow – happy milk or beef. Stressed animals are more prone to disease. This article looks at the practical issues related to animal handling on farm, prior to milking. Marianne shares some practical tips about dairy herd care. The importance of training farm workers is a critical issue.

“Lucky Daisy” project is born

I have to share my recent encounter at a dairy farm where I had the opportunity to audit the conditions in which dairy cows are handled by farm workers.  My experience landed me a calf in the boot of my car, on her way to the vet from Kroonstad to Pretoria! During her trip she met the Union Buildings, the N1 Peak hour traffic and I ended smelling like “farm” on arrival at home! This still beats what she had endured up to that point which is what prompted my intervention.

After a few days of TLC, the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Ondersterpoort visited her to evaluate her condition. Unfortunately, she had to be put down due to the negligence she had been subjected to on farm. She had been in a very poor physical condition. The incident distressed me immensely. Why would this kind of thing happen?

By sharing this story, I hope to reach everybody that cares about changing cultures and the way that we “care for the origin of our food”.

Do I mean that farmers must bath their cows, treat them like a pet, pat them on the back and give them TLC in order to deliver higher quality milk?Well, I think most dairy farmers will laugh if they heard that! But there is room for improvement.

The status of dairy herds internationally and nationally

In the international, Primary sector, there are an estimated 145 million dairy farms and between 0,7 billion and 1 billion people live on dairy farms. The largest average herds are found in Saudi Arabia with 8 125 cows, followed by New Zealand (393), South Africa (357) and Australia (241). The average farm size increased by 838 cows in herd from 2009 to 2012 in Saudi Arabia, by 25 in South Africa and by 10 in Australia. There are only 13 countries with herd sizes over 100. The largest number of dairy farms are in India (77 million), while the original 15 EU member countries have 325 000 dairy farms.

In South African primary dairy sector, the number of milk producers has decreased from 3 889 in January 2007 to 1834 in January 2015. The number of producers per province is shown in the Table below. Since 2007, the biggest decrease in producer numbers occurred in Mpumalanga (74%).

Number of milk producers per province, 2007 – 2015

Various reasons for the decrease in milk producers can be debated but it is imperative that we maintain healthy herds to secure milk supply.

So what goes into a healthy head? After lengthy discussions with farm owners, the following tips were given for dairy farm success.:

  • A quality Feeding programme and plenty of fresh water
  • Herd maintenance
  • Training of farm workers
  • Improved understanding of impact of animal health on quality and profitability.

So let’s see how we are supposed to treat our dairy cows!

METHOD 1: Daisy needs a good menu

Feeding can include any hay, grain, silage or even let them graze grass if there is plenty of grass. Constant access to clean water and feeding them at consistent times is critical. Depending on the type of feed, it’s important to provide a balanced intake of calcium, phosphorus, protein and energy which will help produce high-quality milk and keep them in good health.

METHOD 2: Daisy needs a clean bill of health

This means keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and de-worming / de-licing programs. If you haven’t already, please see your local large animal veterinarian for certain vaccinations and de-worming or de-licing products that are best for your herd.

METHOD 3: Daisy needs regular check ups

Dairy cattle are highly susceptible to mastitis and lameness issues, which may need to be attended immediately! Carelessness in this regards can lead to losing the cattle. Therefore, farm workers must be trained to identify symptoms of mastitis and also ensure that injuries are treated daily.

METHOD 4: Daisy needs a clean bed

Farm workers have to understand the reasons of good hygiene practices to protect not only the cows, but also themselves from disease. Ensure that all areas are daily cleaned, straw/ bedding / sawdust are replaced and manure have been removed.

METHOD 5: Daisy needs a clean milking parlour

Contaminated milk can result in the transmission of  E.coli, Streptococcus, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium spp, to the consumer. Therefore, the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential. Workers should change daily. Dirty equipment can also result in infections, mastitis or other illnesses for the cows. A proper cleaning programme should be in place.

METHOD 6: Daisy needs regular milking

Dairy cows need to be milked twice a day, approximately once every 12 hours. If you have more than 3 cows, machine milking is recommended.

METHOD 7: Daisy needs a little Daisy

In order for dairy cows to be productive in producing milk, they need to be bred once a year to produce a calf. Breeding dairy cattle involves producing offspring that are primarily used for dairy production. Most of the heifers that are born to a dairy operation are used as replacements, whereas the rest (those that are male, and those females that are not fit for the dairy herd), are sold to be raised as beefers or turned into veal.

These may sound like basic controls but as with most things, getting the basics right goes a long way to success.

Primelink are involved in a “Lucky Daisy” project that will focus on the development and upskilling of farm workers in treating these animals with more care. We will follow up with them in a few month’s time.

Let’s ensure happy cows to drink “Happy” milk!


Editors note:

We asked the Dairy standards agency about this. Jompie Burger provided this information:

The only legislation for Animal Welfare is under the SPCA Act. Industry expertise serving on the SABS technical committee (SABS TC 1094), Livestock welfare, in accordance with procedures of the SABS Standards Division is currently busy with a South African National Standard relating to the Welfare of Dairy Cattle known as SANS 1694 and some changes are still expected to come. Once complete this document will be published for comment prior by SABS prior to final publication. Most of the principles addressed in the draft document are supported by international practices and are already captured in the latest DSA audit criteria relating to milk shed audits which is and industry specific selfregulatiory initiative of the organised dairy industry.


 Any ideas for improving conditions on farm… let us know