In a region where the milk production level is the country’s lowest, and the demand for milk is ten times larger than what is produced, new innovative management methods and technology can be the solution to the problem and a key to a profitable venture. It can also serve as inspiration to other milk producers in the region.
At the end of a winding country road, after passing by the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, in the lush, green landscape of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, we arrive at La Montaña dairy farm. Raúl Chablé y Ciau, project coordinator, and Gener Ake Tun, farm manager, greet us and show us around the farm, two corals with roofs for shade and an open platform with the milking parlour, it’s clean white tiles shining.
La Montaña farm was inaugurated in March 2011 when they started milking 82 cows in the 2x10 parallel parlour. The owner of the operation is BEPENSA, a company with several branches, one of them a processing plant and dairy brand Láttia. They are the only fresh milk producers in the region, and they even deliver the milk to the doors of their customers. In addition to fresh milk, they also produce cheese.
The objective of the project that was undertaken together with INIFAP (National Institute of Forest, Agriculture and Cattle Research), was to produce more fresh quality milk for the processing plant Láttia and the region, using Good Agricultural Practices, bringing in new technology and experience to the region, and to stimulate local milk production. It is the first project of its kind in the Yucatán peninsula, and it has been very successful. They are continuously working on increasing production through improved nutrition and reproduction.
At La Montaña they recently started to make their own corn silage, and they are introducing it to the cows little by little. It is still too early to see the results of the new diet, but they expect that long term, the yield per cow per day will increase from the current 8 litres to 15 litres with the new regime. Average yield in the region is 4-5 litres/day. The cows are fed 10-15 kilos of cut grass (Taiwan) and 3 kg of concentrate per day, and during the night they graze (Brizantha). The cows spend the days in the feedlot, and they graze during the night. They are looking at enclosing the cows full time in the future.
While we listen to Raúl Chablé explaining their recent introduction of corn silage in the cows’ diet, two women, Daniela Canche Ku and Paola Peraza Calderon, arrive at the farm and start preparing for the afternoon milking. They milk twice a day and apply a strict milking routine with pre and post dipping.
The milking takes approximately 40-45 minutes. According to Raúl the cleaning of the teats actually takes longer than the milking. But hygiene is of highest importance, so this is well-invested time. They produce 600 litres of milk/day, store it in a 2500 liter cooling tank and deliver it every third day to the plant in Mérida. Somatic Cell Count (SCC) averages between 150 000 – 200 000 and the Standard Plate Count (SPC) is very low for the region, 40 000 cfu/mL. They are very proud of the quality of the milk. Raúl adds that the automatic cup removers also help keeping a high milk quality, avoiding over-milking. They have very few cases of mastitis; only one cow has clinical mastitis at the moment.
Over all the animal health is very good. During rainy season they experience some hoof health issues, and a few months ago they had an outbreak of piroplasmos, due to ticks. This was introduced to the herd from newly arrived cows. To protect the herd from contamination they have a disinfecting shower frame over the road entering the farm.
They use ALPRO herd management system to measure production, and activity meters for heat detection. Raúl says that this helps them in keeping control of the herd and the operation, and it helps them in making decisions.
The herd is very young; most cows are in their first lactation and some in their second. The cows are Swiss-Zebu and Holstein-Zebu crosses, selected by genotypes, and it is still too early to tell whether they will produce according to selection. They are growing the herd rapidly; 44 cows are calving this month, 40 in January and 40 in February. The plan is to milk 160 cows in March, and if everything goes accordingly they will be milking 300 cows in June 2012.
The new-born calves stay with the mother during the whole first day for colostrum, they are then moved to individual calf huts and bottle-fed colostrum for two more days. After this they receive whole milk for 15 days and day 16-30 they get 50% milk and 50% powder milk. Day 31-60 they are fed 2 litres of powder milk twice a day. Day 61-75 powder milk, water and hay. After the initial colostrum feeding they are given a balanced feed throughout the rest of the calf management program.
While we have been talking about the herd, the afternoon milking has started. The cows are very calm during milking, and Raúl Chablé says that this is thanks to Daniela’s and Paola’s mild and considerate handling of the cows. He says that women are very different to men in this respect.The next group of cows is patiently waiting for their turn. Raúl and Gener plan to put shading net over the waiting area, to reduce heat stress.
To reach the farm’s ambitious production goals Raúl and Gener work closely with INIFAP, who are doing research on the farm. They also have a good relationship with the people at DeLaval who, says Raúl, have been a great support with planning, infrastructure, building and equipment.
“We have relied on people with experience from the beginning”, says the project coordinator.
The main reason for investing in a parallel parlour was the ability to expand, which would have been difficult with a rotary. Since increasing production is the main goal for the project this was an important factor.
The biggest threat to La Montaña not reaching their targets is not the market situation, like in many other places. It is in fact climate change. The frequent hurricanes in the region is a serious threat, and can be devastating to the farm. Last time a hurricane hit the area, before they started this new operation, the other location where they milk cows was severely damaged: the grass was flooded and died and they ended up with 100% mastitis in all the 212 cows, from electricity cuts and interrupted milking.
There is a big demand for fresh milk on the Yucatán peninsula, and Láttia is the region’s only producer of fresh milk right now. In 2009 the dairy farmers in the Yucatán produced 5 million liters of milk, while the demand was for 10 million liters. The 2010 production in the Yucatán province was 3,4 million litres. With this in mind the project at La Montaña and their planned production growth important for the region, and the interest that this project has generated with the local dairy producers is also very promising.
For more information about milk production in Mexico try this link (in Spanish): http://www.lactodata.com/lactodata/docs/ind/lacto_ind_prod.pdf