Namibia’s best extensive dairy farmer for 2015 successfully combines the production of fresh milk and the growing out of oxen in tough, dry conditions on his farm.
Pure-bred dairy cows are not suitable for extensive dairy production in the toughest parts of Namibia. As a result, extensive dairy farmers prefer cross-bred cattle that are not only hardy, but also produce heavier calves which ensure an additional income to supplement their milk sales.
Boeta Horn of Gobabis, who was named Namibia’s best extensive dairy farmer, agrees. His dairy herd originally consisted of only Friesland cattle but over the past 10 years he has moved away from farming with just pure-bred dairy cattle. He crossed his Frieslands with Braunvieh bulls purchased in South Africa. These cross-bred cattle are then covered once again by Brahman bulls.
“A large cow doesn’t do well here, as her maintenance needs are too high for the sparse grazing.”
These days he milks Braunvieh-Brahman cross-bred cows that give a relatively high yield. The heifers that are selected for the dairy herd are crossed with a Sussex bull to produce large oxen. The remaining heifers are sold at auction.
The first-calf cows are crossed with a Brahman bull the second time they come into season. The resultant cross-breed, a medium-frame cow, is exactly what he is looking for. “It is not necessarily the best dairy cow for all conditions, but these cross-breeds fare the best. The Brahman gives the hardy adaptability to the female animals, and the Braunvieh ensures good beef and dairy attributes,” says Boeta. “A large cow doesn’t do well here, as her maintenance needs are too high for the sparse grazing.”
The Horns have been dairy farmers on this farm for the past four decades. His grandfather Jacobus, whose family moved from South Africa to Angola, farmed for 50 years in Angola before moving to Gobabis in 1928. “There was no infrastructure here in those days, just the grass, trees and wild animals,” recalls Boeta.
With the advent of the Second World War, Boeta’s parents, Machiel and Magdalena, left the farm. They returned in 1952 when Boeta was five years old. Even back then, he helped with the milking. They sold cream which was collected by a tanker every week and transported to Windhoek.
Boeta began farming in 1968, also selling cream initially. In 1973 he purchased Simmentaler cows and from then started selling fresh milk in Windhoek.
Later he purchased the Frieslands to milk intensively but after 10 years started cross-breeding dairy cows and changed to an extensive dairy enterprise. Today he supplies fresh milk to Namibia Dairies, which collects it from the farm by tanker.
He only milks once a day. The cows graze at night and return in the morning to the kraal where they get milked. There they stay until the afternoon when they are put out to graze again.
Although the area is usually dry, he has excellent sweetveld with mainly bushman grass (Stipagrostis uniplumis) and finger grass (Digitaria eriantha). Shrubs also provide good grazing for the cattle. Boeta’s cattle have learned to graze the leaves and tips of the branches and he regards 90% of the soft material as edible.
“There was no infrastructure here in those days, just the grass, trees and wild animals.”
The cattle receive Browse Plus (reg.no. V11013, Act 36 of 1947) in their drinking water to break down the tannins in the leaves, which are slightly poisonous. This also aids digestion. The cows also receive a salt-phosphate lick in summer and an energy lick in winter. The veld nourishment is sufficient until the first frosts occur.
While the grazing is good, Boeta’s daily milk yield is an average of 15 litres per cow. He only milks three teats; the milk from the fourth is for her calf to ensure fat weaners.
He milks about 100 cows. Thanks to their hardiness they remain productive for a long time. They will produce enough milk to stay in the herd for at least 12 years, some as long as 18 years. They differ from pure-bred intensive dairy cows which have to be slaughtered after two to three lactations as their production is no longer profitable. Boeta normally gets a good price for old slaughter cows at auction.
HIGH CALVING PERCENTAGE
Boeta’s dairy herd has a calving percentage of 100 thanks to selection for fertility. A cow is sold if she doesn’t become pregnant. Cows that develop mastitis are also sold off, as their milk cannot be sold while they are sick. This process ensures he selects cows with a high resistance to illness. Fortunately, the cows are not prone to milk fever as they are not kept in the stalls for long periods, but rather graze on the veld.
He takes pains to ensure good milk hygiene, as farmers get a premium of 5 cents per litre for a bacteria count under 20 000 parts per million. “That sounds like a small amount, but it makes a difference to our milk income. The dairy industry has looked after us throughout the years,” says Boeta.
They may not use growth stimulants or hormones in the production of milk and beef, and crop farmers may not even plant GM crops. This is to preserve the country’s export status as a producer of organic meat.
Some of the bull calves are raised as oxen, and the rest are auctioned after weaning at about 200kg. The oxen roam freely on the veld, where they receive a commercial lick that has been specifically developed for shrub utilization.
Boeta sells all his oxen at auction when they are five years old. “An ox doesn’t stop growing. I have sold oxen that weighed 960kg,” he says with a chuckle.
“Milk doesn’t make a man rich, but it does put food on the table – and gives one a good life.”
At any given time, there are about 150 oxen of various ages on the veld. This means he can sell quite a few each year. Then the next lot of weaned bull calves are ready for their five-year growing out period.
Boeta says he wanted to stop dairy farming when he turned 60 but this goal changes every year. He is now 68 years old and is contemplating retiring at 70. “It has become such a part of my life that I can’t imagine not farming,” he says, laughing. “Milk doesn’t make a man rich, but it does put food on the table – and gives one a good life.”
Enquiries: Boeta Horn, tel. 0026462568030.