Don Mateo, Argentina - Knowing the value of knowledge

Key statistics

  • Herd size: 240 milking cows
  • Location: San Jorge, Santa Fé, Argentina
  • Type of animals: Cows
  • Milking system: Herringbone
  • Region: South America
Knowledge and animal welfare are the main challenges for Argentina’s dairy farmers today, according to Raúl Martinich, owner of Don Mateo dairy farm in San Jorge, Santa Fé province in Argentina.

Raúl’s family came to Argentina from Croatia more than fifty years ago, and formed part of a colony of Croatian families that were dedicated to milk production. The farms were small and the families worked together to make it more profitable. Things have changed a lot since those days, and they continue to change.

Intensifying the production

Because of the increased value of land and competition from crop cultivation, dairy farmers in Argentina are looking at how to intensify their production. They have to reduce their land and become more efficient. The question is how this should be done - free stall or dry lot? Animal welfare also becomes an important issue when you confine animals, with increased risk of mastitis and hoof problems. Without doubt, knowledge plays an important role in this process.

Five years ago Raúl started the transition of his farm, by upgrading his milking system, cooling, installation of automatic cleaning, automatic calf feeders and by enclosing the cows in dry lots. The next step will be to build feed alleys and a floor to improve hygiene.

Animal welfare pays

To learn more in preparation for this transition, and see how others had done, Raúl visited a lot of farms, and he also participated in trainings and symposiums. One of them was an animal welfare symposium in Uruguay in 2010, and he has implemented many of the things he learnt there, e.g how to avoid production decrease in the summer by providing plenty of water and shade. He improved water availability, assured that there was sufficient space for all cows to drink and that the water was fresh and clean. These measures together with the shade he provided by putting roof over the dry lots prevented the usual production loss during summer.

“The decrease of two liters of milk per day that you avoid by cooling your cows, according to Xavier Manteca, (animal welfare expert) is correct!” says Raúl.

With a herd of 300 cows, during the two hottest months heat stress can reduce the milk production by 120 litres per cow, a total of 36 000 litres of milk.

“The investment is paid back within a year,” he concludes.

(Read more about Xavier Manteca’s presentation about Animal welfare here)

Milking and feeding

Milking at Don Mateo takes two hours, they apply a complete milking routine with pre-and post dipping. Cleaning takes half an hour.

The cows are fed three times a day, same amount every time. The TMR consists of six ingredients, corn silage, alfalfa silage, hay, corn kernels, cottonseed and soy pellets.

“There should not be any variation in milking and feeding times. The cow is just like us, they have habits too.”

In summer the cows get more feed, since it dries quickly and becomes less digestible. If the cows eat less they produce less, so at Don Mateo efforts are made to improve the cows’ body condition.

Technology and knowledge transfer

He is very positive towards automation; the automatic calf feeder he installed was the first in Argentina at the time and has made a big difference at the farm. With the herd management system he keeps track of the herd, the individual cow production, the reproduction and he uses activity meters for heat detection. Automatic cleaning ensures that hygiene is always taken care of in the same way.

“Automation is a form of direct control. It helps in avoiding mistakes. Equipment such as the automated rotary is the thing for the future. It will be ideal on Argentina’s dairy farms,” he says.

But he adds that there are other things that need to be in place, that we cannot rely on technology alone. Good genetics and good animal welfare are also crucial.

“With both technology and good management in place we can develop the dairy farms and give the people working at the farms better working conditions.”

The milk producers in Argentina know that if they don’t develop and change, they will be out of business within a few years’ time. This is why they travel, look for information, listen and learn, according to Raúl Martinich.

He believes that the suppliers in the dairy industry are leading this change. They can take producers to see demonstration farms, show new technology and train people.

“What will move the world in the next twenty years is knowledge,” he says.

Dairy facts:

  • Farm: Don Mateo in San Jorge, Santa Fé province, Argentina
  • Owner: Raúl Martinich
  • No. of cows: 240 milking cows, 300 in total
  • Breed: Holando Argentino
  • Milking system: Midiline 10
  • Total milk yield: 5500 liters/day, Fat: 3.9%, Protein: 3.43%
  • SCC: 300 000
  • TBC <10 000
  • Milking 2x day
  • 170 ha crops: alfalfa, corn, barley, oats
  • They produce 270 calves per year
  • Replacement rate: 25-28%, main reasons for culling are: age, health, hoof problems.
  • First calving at 24-26 months
  • Average age of herd: 4-4,5 years
  • Employees: Five people: Two milkers, one calf responsible, one TMR feeding responsible and a farm manager who is overall responsible
  • Labour cost: 12% of the gross income

Equipment:

  • Midiline 10
  • ALPRO herd management system and activity meters
  • Automatic calf feeder
  • Cooling tank 6 000 litres
  • Automatic cleaning
  • Vertical mixer 12 m3
  • Fans