The dairy industry remains one of the most important and growing industry in the world. According to the FAO Food Outlook of June 2011, milk production is expected to expand by 2% to 724 million tones, with largest increases in Asia and China. Milk consumption is essential for good health and growth and milk products are present in the diets of children as well as adults every day; be it in the form of milk itself that we take with our cereals in the morning, or in our tea and coffee or in the form of butter, cheese, yoghurt, desserts etc.
Milk production in Mauritius
Presently, we are producing 12% of our local milk production which is 12 million Litres per year. Through the Food Security Fund, the Government of Mauritius has been encouraging farmers to engage in milk production by providing loans of Rs 50,000 per head (with 5 % interest). Through this initiative, local milk production has increased slightly over the past years (local milk production was 2% in 2003), but still there are several challenges being faced by breeders and entrepreneurs in the dairy industry; the main challenge is the high cost of production.
The cost of production has increased over the past years mainly because the increase in price of animal feeds, hence reducing profitability in the business. This problem has caused many breeders operating on a small scale production to stop rearing animals and venture in a more profitable business.
Understanding the objective of the dairy industry
To maximize milk production on a farm, the objective of the breeder is to have 1 calving per year (1 calf in a year). In an ideal situation, weaning (separation of the calf from cow) is done at 6-8 weeks (approximately 2 months of age only if calf has good body condition and is of appropriate weight). The heifer (a female calf) is reared with appropriate care from 2-8 months and is inseminated at 15 months (here also, insemination is done when heat is detected BUT only if the heifer is in good health and has a good body condition), so that the first calving is at 2 years of age. A shorter calving interval is more profitable because in the 5-year production cycle of the cow, there will be maximum 4 calving and hence maximum milk production. But in practical, it is not easy to achieve this as it requires the following precise skills on which the milk production will depend:
Management of feeding programs
Calf and heifer management
Reproductive management of dairy cows
Other husbandry practices related to animal health and welfare, housing, environment and bio-security measures.
How to reduce the cost of production in the dairy industry?
One of the most effective ways of reducing the cost of production in the dairy industry is to have a proper record keeping system and traceability of the herd, so that the right information is accessible at the right moment when important management decisions need to be taken. Depending on the level of production, different breeders choose to have different type of record keeping. For example, a breeder having 2-3 cows may keep his record in a book (where information on the tag number, age, breed, calving, insemination dates etc. are kept), whereas another breeder having 20-30 cows may record these information on Microsoft Excel. However, an intensive production of over 200 cows, it is difficult to manage all these information using these examples as it will become time consuming to search for a particular information on a specific animal. What other tools can be used for record keeping of an intensive farm?
The use of a Management Information System at the farm of SKC Dairy Fresh and Co Ltd in Mauritius
The SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd farm
In 2008, the Rose Belle Sugar Estate leased 235 arpents of land which was under sugarcane cultivation at Le Val to SKC Dairy Fresh and Co Ltd for a dairy project. SKC Dairy Fresh and Co Ltd has been incorporated between SKC SURAT GROUP and Stuart MacKenzie (a South African stakeholder) and their project had been favourably considered by the Rose Belle Sugar Estate in view of the National context of food security and the rising cost of imported milk.
With Mr. Stuart MacKenzie as stakeholder and SKC SURAT GROUP’s infrastructure, distribution and marketing network, the company presently has 250 dairy cows at their farm at Le Val, producing more than 5000 Litres of milk per day. The question that we ask ourselves is what is the most effective way to record and manage data for a herd of 250 dairy cows and calves?
The Management Information System used at the farm
During a visit at the farm situated at Le Val, the farm manager, Mr. Keith Hutton explained how the Management Information System that he uses in the farm allows him to manage his herd by going through some modules of the system and showing some examples. According to him, “he has more data on his animals than a doctor may have on his patient! Basically, the system is connected to two computers, but it is not connected to the internet at any point in time. His computer at home is also connected to the management software, where he can get access to all the information on what is happening in the farm, whether he is in Mauritius or in South Africa”. The management software used at the SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd is the AfiFarm.
Herd view from the Management Information System
How does the Management Information System works?
The Management Information System also acts as a model that can simulate different scenarios. For it to work in the local context, the model has been calibrated and validated after constant data collection until all the data have been fine-tuned to fit the situation on the farm.
All cows on the farm are equipped with a tag called a “Pedometer”. This pedometer has the identification number of the animal, which also contains different sensors.
The Pedometer used at the farm
Below are two videos; The first one showing how to attach the tag properly and the second one is about how it works and its benefits:
If we want to get access to any information on a specific animal, we need to click on its identification number and basically any information that we need on the animal (the calf or cow) can be obtained in a few clicks.
As any other model, the one at the SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd has different modules which can be seen on the left as shown in the diagram below:
Arrow showing the different modules on the system
These modules are;
10 Day Graphs
Each module can be expanded further and all data related to the modules can be obtained by the user. Some of these information that are used frequently are: feed consumption, weight gain by the animal, insemination date, conception rate, calving date, general events, lactation list etc.
Examples of some scenarios from the Management Information System
Heat detection is very important in order to inseminate the animal at the proper time for successful conception. In a farm of 10-20 cows, signs of heat can be observed by the breeder, but when one has a herd of 250 cows; it is quite easy to miss heat signs of some cows. But with the Management Information System, only by looking at the reduction in feed intake and in milk production will indicate to the farm manager that the cow is in heat and needs to be inseminated.
With the Management Information System, all records for artificial insemination done are kept and when there is no conception after the second insemination, the system will indicate that there is a problem and the farm manager needs to separate the animal and treat.
The above are just 2 examples of how the Management Information can be used by the farm manager mainly as a TOOL for prediction, management and decision making. By using it, important decisions are taken so as to reduce the cost of production and increase profitability. Mr. Keith Hutton of SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd stressed on the fact that without the information stored and generated by the system, he would not be able to manage his farm efficiently, BUT it is also true that the system cannot work on its own. Management and decision making is by the farm manager!
Photos from the SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd farm can be viewed on the slideshow below:
Thanks to Mr. Ashveen Fakeer of Meaders Feeds Ltd and Mr. Keith Hutton for the visit at SKC Dairy Fresh Co Ltd Farm at Le Val, Mauritius
Originally from Mauritius, Nawsheen Hosenally is an ICT4Ag and Social Media Consultant with MEDIAPROD, an agency specialised in communication for agricultural and rural development based in Burkina Faso. She has been working at the intersection of youth, agriculture and ICT for the past 5 years with various regional and international organisations. Nawsheen holds a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Extension and is also a part-time student, pursuing her Master’s degree in Management and Information Systems at the University of Manchester, UK.