Patrick Gorman gave up a career in
contracting in the UK in 1985 to take
a job on a large dairy farm. Since
then hes worked on dairy farms in
the United Arab Emirates and now
Lebanon. High temperatures are one
of the biggest problems, he explains
IN Saudi the farm had 1300 milking cows and 900 youngstock with a rolling herd average of 10,500 litres, and they were milked four times a day.
The farm was closed down in 1996 for the cows to be transferred to a 5000 cow unit, one of four owned by the company. The farm had suffered seven outbreaks of foot-and-mouth in 11 years, even though they were vaccinated every 10 weeks. F&M is endemic in the Middle East, along with occasional outbreaks of Rinderpest and Rift Valley Disease.
Keeping cows cool in Saudi and Dubai, where temperatures can exceed 50C (122F) is a major task. After trying many systems, we found that the best one was Korral Kool which used water sprays to drop the temperature in the buildings by 17C (23F). This made it possible to maintain average milk yields of more than 37 litres/day for the whole farm and keep conception rates over 35% in the hottest of summers.
From Saudi I moved to Dubai to build a 2000-cow unit on a greenfield (or, rather, brown desert) site. There was already an existing farm on the site, consisting of 150 cows with a rolling herd average of 4000 litres. The idea was to design a farm that could be built in phases as and when the milk market increased.
The milk was all processed through our own factory, the normal practice in the region. Usually, the highest milk requirement is in the heat of the summer when the cows are peaking and its also the hardest time of year to breed the cows. At the end of my three-year contract the farm had grown to nearly 1000 milking cows with a rolling herd average of 8000 litres.
I now manage a recently built farm in Lebanon, which includes a processing factory on the site. The farm was designed to milk 1200 cows, with out-of-parlour feeders and fully computerised double-32 rapid-exit De Laval parallel milking parlour.
At the moment we are milking 800 cows three times a day, with a rolling herd average of 7300 litres. This is budgeted to go to 8000 litres by the end of this year, even though we will be importing up to 400 heifers from Europe by the end of the year. The cows are split into 160-cow milking herds in free stall yards.
There are outdoor yards for the cows to exercise in. However, in summer they only use them at night and early in the morning because temperatures hit 40C (104F) in the middle of the day.
Unlike other parts of the Middle East, these high temperatures only persist for a short period in August. The Bekhaa Valley, where the farm is situated, is 900m above sea level, so the nights cool down relatively quickly, even in the height of summer. The farm has no cow cooling systems installed because the cost could not be justified for such a short period of benefit; so far intake and yield reductions have been minimal in August.
In other respects the climate in Lebanon is different to the rest of the Middle East. It snows every year and rains from October to April, though not much during the rest of the year.
Compared to the UK, we feed a higher amount of concentrate. This is generally cheaper than forage and the higher yielding cows eat up to 15kg of concentrate pellets dispensed over a 24 hour period. The forage is maize silage, which costs £35/t ($50), alfalfa hay, which costs £140/t ($200) and a barley/vetch mix.
Average production per cow is 31kg/day at 165 days in milk, with the highest group of 160 cows achieving 41kg/day at 63 days in milk, an increase of 20% for the same period last year. Feed intake for the highest group is over 25kg dry matter a day. As with the other regions of the Middle East, F&M is endemic so we vaccinate three times a year.
Total staff on the farm is 39 including a full-time vet, administration, maintenance and crop staff for the 60ha (150 acres) of irrigated land. This year the cows and youngstock will consume over 10,000t of maize silage 1500t of alfalfa hay and 1200t of barley vetch, most of which is contract grown by local farmers. More than 4500t of a formulated concentrate pellet will also be eaten this year.
The transfer price for the milk to our own factory is 40 cents/litre (28p), but when the farm reaches maximum cow numbers I expect to be able to produce milk for less than 33 cents/litre (23p).
Most of the products manufactured in the factory are cultured, so quality is very important. Our total bacterial counts are generally under 20,000/ml, and our coliforms are usually under 50/ml.
Lebanon does not have a tradition of drinking fresh milk. White cheeses like halloumi and feta are popular, as are cultured products like Laban, a drinking yoghurt, and Labneh, a drained yoghurt. These make up the bulk of milk usage.
Above: Two 160-cow yards in Lebanon. A 900m elevation above sea level means cows enjoy cooler nights. Top: Patrick Gorman.
Above: Double 32 rapid-exit milking parlour in Lebanon. Below: Heifers arriving on the farm in Dubai; typical cow transport.