Story by Sameera Banoo | Resource Development Officer | Heifer South Africa
Photo courtesy of Heifer South Africa
Members of the Thusanang Dairy Project in Matatiele, South Africa, began their preparations to become small-scale dairy farmers in January 2013. Participants are undergoing training with Heifer South Africa, to develop their skills and learn how to care for their animals.
Over the next three years, 600 families in three villages around Matatiele will become small-scale dairy farmers through the project. Each family will care for one or two cows and work together to sell milk and vegetables.
Heifer South Africa is working with these poor, rural families to make the necessary preparations to care for their cows, such as constructing appropriate animal shelters and planting fodder. They have learned that providing cows with nutritious feed and a well-balanced diet keeps them healthy to produce quality milk.
Cows consume pasture, hay, silage, grains and forage crops. The main feed is pasture, which is a mixture of grass and legumes for protein. Cows eat about 40 kilograms, or about 88 pounds, of nutritious food a day, which is the equivalent of 206 baked potatoes or 1,440 slices of bread. Dairy cows also require a large amount of fresh water every day, as milk is mostly composed of water. Preparing all this food and water is hard work, particularly when you need to bring it to the cow.
Because of this, Heifer encourages farmers to use a zero-grazing approach. This means that cows are kept in a safe, healthy enclosure generally comprised of a covered area for eating and sleeping and an outside area where the animals can walk around. The cows are not allowed to roam around by themselves because this often leads to cows contracting illnesses and picking up ticks. Instead, farmers cut the animals' food and bring it to them once or twice a day. Keeping the cattle close to the home also helps to ensure they are safe from thieves and predators.
These dairy farmers are stringent in adhering to safety requirements that ensure their cows remain healthy and produce high-quality milk, which is made into nutritious dairy products. Farmers check on their cattle daily to support good health and secure them against stress by milking them in a quiet environment at the same time every day.
Over time, these cows often become like family members. For Charmaine Rakglekene, a 9-year-old from the Hereford project in Limpopo, the family's cow, named Beehive, was just like another person. "Thanks a lot Beehive, [you give] me milk and now I love Kellogg's® [cereal]," she said.