Brazilian dairy expands to secure future

By Stephen Cooke

A SIXTH generation farmer based in a dairy region of Brazil steeped in tradition is defying the local trend and expanding in a bid to secure his family’s future.

Marcelo Siqueira is the sixth generation to farm in the state of Minas Gerais, running his father Ciro’s mixed farming business, where they produce milk, run beef cattle and grow coffee over four farms.

He hosted a group of Australian farmers on an Alltech Lienert Australia tour to Brazil to visit farms and the annual One Conference held in Kentucky, USA.

Minas Gerais is where the Portuguese first arrived so many farming families, including Marcelo’s, have direct links to the first settlers.

The larger farms have been divided up for children of large families to the point where the average farm size in the area is 30ha. These farms hand milk their herds of 20–30 cows and produce 15l per cow.

“Ten years ago there were no farms with more than 500 cows. Now, people see they have to grow because there’s a small margin for profit,” Marcelo explained, through a translator.

The farm has cobbled lanes, the original farm house is in pristine condition, and the original dairy, which now provides shelter for calf pens, has been retained.

However, it is an efficient operation which Marcelo plans to grow.

They have a 371 stall barn where 340 milking cows are kept year round. The rest of his 800 head herd, including young stock and heifers, are fed their ration in a paddock.

The barn enables them to use Holsteins as they can protect them from the weather and humidity with sprinklers and giant fans. It rises to 34 degrees centigrade in the summer but humidity is high, resembling Queensland.

Rainfall is consistent at 1800-2000mm a year but most falls between October and March. Marcelo said milking cows outside instead of the barn would see a loss of up to 15 litres per cow.

The focus in Brazil is on litres over components but 10% of Marcelo’s herd comprises Jerseys, to help lift fat and protein as he sells half his production to Coca Cola Brazil, which produces whey powder.

This gives him an extra 0.05 real/litre (AUS2c/litre). He is currently paid 1.35 reals/litres (A48c/litre) although other farms in the State are receiving about .90 real/litre (A32c/l).

His SCC of 150 000 is rewarded with a further bonus for being under 200 000. Further bonuses are paid for fat and protein. The herd is currently averaging 3.2 for protein and 3.5 for fat.

They milk three times a day in a 12-a-side double up, producing an average 34.5 litres, or 12 000 litres, a day.

Heifer calves are being retained as they build towards 600 milking cows. The family was the first to use AI in Brazil in 1966. They are now using ABS genetics but have stopped using sexed semen.

The genetics are strong in the herd. The family used to register their cattle with the Holstein Association in Brazil, showing cattle and winning Best Breeder in the State in 1998.

However, Marcelo said their primary focus now is on production “to make money”.

The calf pens are now housed in the original dairy shed, about 50 cm off the ground. This system was introduced two years ago and they have since reduced their mortality rate from as high as 15 per cent down to 1.5 per cent.

Calves are kept in the pens for 60 days, before they are moved to a larger pen with other calves in the barn. They can’t go out onto pasture until 4 months because of ticks.

They plant 150 ha to corn each year, growing 60t/ha of corn silage. They also plant 100 ha of oats each year but because of a lack of rain this year grew brachiaria instead, which handles hot weather and is a good secondary option at 30 per cent DM.

They produce a ration comprising 35 kg of corn silage, 5 kg grass or oats, and 13 kg of concentrates, including wet corn, organic trace minerals from Alltech, cotton seed, soybean meal, citrus pulp and snaplage. Cost of feed is 15.80 real/cow/day (AUS$5.61).

They also use Alltech products Yea-Sacc, Mycosorb and Bioplex. Since adding these Marcelo said they are saving 12 000 real/month (A$4260) compared to their previous additives, and improved from 30l to 34.5l in production at the comparative stage of the season last year.

Beef cattle provide an option to use land where coffee can’t be planted and dairy cows aren’t run. They have 1500 beef cows and will finish 500 cattle this year. They also plant 250 ha of soybeans for the market and 200 ha of coffee.

Coffee quality and therefore prices have fallen for Brazilian growers because they machine harvest. Traditionally each tree was picked three times a season to allow every bean to ripen. Now it is done at once so there are more unripe beans.

They grow 35-40 60kg bags per hectare and receive A$152 per bag, down from A$266 quite recently. His gross margin/ha is A$1775/ha but those who hand pick can make up to A$4260.

Although prices have fallen, the diversification of the business and expansion of the dairy will enable the seventh generation to continue in Marcelo’s footsteps.

• Alltech Lienert Australia funded Stephen Cooke’s attendance at the Alltech ONE Conference in Kentucky, USA, and tour to Brazil.