300 are working on 12,000 cow unit

ANOTHER Christmas been and gone, and the tinsel looks a little stale already!

The weather is not been Christmasy this year, which is something I don’t mind at all. We have a working arrangement on the farm that ensures everyone had either Christmas or (will have) New Year off, whilst the cows just expect the ‘hotel’ to operate as usual without a hitch throughout the period.

I’d got some extra bags of salt and sand in to cater for cold weather and ice, in the hope that such preparations makes sure the weather stays mild.

Otherwise it’s a case of walking the dog, chopping a few logs, and generally tucking into as much food and drink as one fancies.

Not much I find, after all the preparation and anticipation. Christmas Eve is best, as it is all to come, and one has a proper appetite, for both food and drink as one celebrates with friends and family. Christmas lunch is something to really look forward to, but I can not cope beyond that I’m afraid.

I always eat far too much Christmas lunch and that puts me off any big meals right through the festive period including New Year.

n Talking of big meals and the guilt and angst that goes hand in hand with Christmas, I was invited to the British Nutrition Foundation a few weeks ago, and they had very interesting papers, despite my earlier reservations about the event.

I was of course on arrival and registration, given a badge and various papers in an achingly trendy linen bag, without which no conference is complete these days.

At lunch I was surrounded by nutritionists, all of them tucking into a good lunch, which again surprised me, but was good to see.

The history of human kind has been shaped by quest for food and cycles of famine (Lavoisier 1777 ‘Life is a fire’).

Today, 80 per cent of world population live on four staples; 2000 different foods from wheat alone, from noodle to strudel.

Today, food has become plentiful, lost its absolute importance in our lives; if you don’t believe me, see how long it takes for you to remember what you actually ate yesterday (all of it it).

Food is so rich and processed in our diets that it is very difficult to lose weight, if one needs to, even more difficult when you realize that your brain and liver take as much energy to function as the muscular system in your bodies...

Exercise helps burn a few extra calories, but will not do much on its own I was told.

Amazingly, a baby’s brain absorbs 70 per cent of the calories eaten, apparently.

How does this help us now that depression has hit following the Christmas indulgence, a slackening of the belt by a couple of notches, and the grim realization that all that money spent on each other was not absolutely necessary, and will take a while to get over.

I learned at this BNF Conference, that there is truth in the fact that some people do put on weight more easily than others even if they eat the same and carry out the same level of activity.

They believe that they are close to finding this gene, and being able to manipulate it so that less weight is gained. More recently, scientists have found a way of taking the pleasure out of eating, which would assist in keeping weight down.

We can all be thin and miserable instead.

n A friend of mine has just been over to Saudi Arabia to look at a job offer. A massive 12,000 (yes thousand) cow unit, which is to be expanded to 15,000 over the next few years.

Around 300 people work on the unit, all foreign of course, which at 40 cows per man is a third of the cow numbers we would allocate per man in the UK.

The workers are Philippino, Pakistani and Nepalese, milking, carrying out feeding, scraping and mucking out and yard work, moving cows around etc: Milking is the job they all aim for as it is by far the best paid; there are five milking parlours (2,400 cows per parlour) with all cows milked four times a day keeping the parlours in operation 24 x 7 days.

The milkers work two shifts, 6am until 6pm or 6pm until 6am, with only 30 minutes break in the 12 hour shift while the parlour is put through a wash cycle.

There are opportunities to take toilet breaks and make the odd drink, but generally speaking the work is hard and the hours are long. The aim of all other workers on the unit is to become milkers, as the hours are the same for them but less pay.

n Water is a big issue in Saudi, and when the bore hole runs dry after a few years, they drill deeper to the next aquifer.

And 80 per cent of the water used on the dairy unit is employed to keep cows cool in the intense heat; very large fan units with spray nozzles keep the atmosphere around the cows moist and cool, and this last year proved to be exceptionally hot, with several weeks of temperature hovering around 60 degrees Celsius!

The other, even greater user of water is crops grown for the dairy unit, which is mainly alphalpha hay grown under centre-pivot irrigation.

Due to the water issues and the need for sustainability, a new rule has been passed which says that every litre of milk produced needs to be matched by a kilo of imported feed (from South Africa or other African states which is imported at double the cost of home grown).

So dire is the water position that this very large dairy unit will be closed in ten years’ time or so, and be re-built elsewhere in an area where there are greater water reserves.

The cows average 12,000 litres per cow, all fully housed of course, but due to the frequency of milking and the dry hot conditions, mastitis levels are very low and the standards on the unit are very high indeed.

Pre milking routine is fastidious and repetitive, with the first operator pre-dipping and stripping the cows, the second operator follows, four cows behind,

wiping the teats dry, with the third man immediately behind putting the units on. All the parlours are fast exit herringbones, and no rotaries are used surprisingly.

A unit of this size (12,000 dairy cows plus 12,000 young-stock) has its own veterinary team, nutritionists, managers for the cows, forage and another sizeable part of the operation; muck disposal.

An overall manager is in charge with all the management structure reporting to him, and of course planning, problem solving etc.

We have a lot of history with such units in Saudi going back many decades British managers have run units in Saudi Arabia very successfully, and of course British technology has played a big part, with companies such as Fullwood developing successful milking parlours (all over the world) for not just cattle and sheep, but for goats, buffalo, camels, llamas and donkeys.

Donkey’s milk is used in the pharmaceutical industry.

Cleopatra was not so far away from the mark when she bathed in asses milk.

Happy New Year!

Gwyn Jones