I was invited recently to visit one of Nestle’s farms in George. I love trips like this where I get to get behind the scenes looks at how the food we consume is made. The farm we visited, Simmelkrans Boerdery, is owned by the Kuyler family who have been in farming for over 60 years.
It was my first visit to an actual working fairy farm and so many (probably all) of my assumptions about dairy farming where blown right out the window. When I thought dairy farm, I thought cows grazing, then walking to a barn, being milked and the milk being processed and bottled. Simple. Easy. Uncomplicated.
Dairy farming, and farming in general, is a science, it is complicated, anything but simple and not easy.
Simmelkrans Boerdery have just over 1000 cows on their farm and produce about 21 000 liters of milk per day. The milk produced by this farm is used for the production of Nespray, Ideal Milk and Condensed Milk in the Nestle production plant in Mossel Bay.
My trip around the farm was eye-opening and I learnt so much;
- Cows walk around 70 000 – 100 000 steps per day. The cows all have pedometers that are monitored daily. Assumption busted: Cows are lazy and don’t move!
- Not all grass is created equally. George, one of the owners of Simmelkrans, and he has spent years studying and improving the grass his cows eat. He was able to reduce his herd but maintain production, due mainly to the quality of the grass his cows eat. Assumption busted: Grass is grass.
- There is a science to irrigation. The biggest expenditure on the farm is their irrigation costs, so it is something the farm is constantly trying to improve and ensure it done as effectively as possible. George has made changes to how his farm is irrigated, how much water is used and how often. They monitor this closely and they do not simply switch the water on and off when they think it has watered enough. Assumption busted: watering is watering. To be honest this is not something I really thought about to be honest.
- Each cow is monitored daily. Every cow has a chip, a pedometer and a number and they are monitored closely by the farmers. Any changes in their behaviour, protein levels or anything else are picked up immediately and addressed. The excel skills on this farm are next level, they know the status of each cow better than I know my kids. Assumption busted: Cows are just cows, the supply milk and that’s that.
- If antibiotics are found in a cows milk supply, they are taken off the ‘production’ line. If for some reason this milk makes it’s way into the main tank/supply of milk the entire tank is discarded and not used.
- Milk is produced year round – there are no days off. If the cows are not milked they are at risk for all the same things breastfeeding moms are when they skip feeds. It is dangerous for the cow and can affect overall supply. So the farm runs year round and milk is sent to the factory year round, which means the factory runs year round.
Every single step of the process is closely monitored, the milk is tested before it goes to the factory and samples are taken by the tanker drives to the factory so they can test them there.
I honestly had no idea so much went into the production of milk.
The process of making the Nespray is just as fascinating and involves just as much science to ensure that the right vitamins are added to the milk and that it is made in the correct environment at all times.
The more I learn on my journey to a healthier lifestyle, the more I want to know where my food is coming from. We all have so many preconceived assumptions about how things are made and often when we dig a little deeper we realise that maybe we didn’t know it all.