Discipline: production system; Key words: emerging dairy herds, smallholder dairy herds, INTERGIS, cow performance, management practices, milk yield, fat yield, SSC.

The commercial dairy sector in South Africa compared to elsewhere in the world is relatively well-developed. In contrast, the emerging and smallholder dairy sector at this stage contributes insignificantly to the mainstream dairy industry. There is also limited research and baseline data on this sector and knowledge on its performance is not well documented. Therefore, characterization of these production systems is an important prerequisite towards understanding the constraints and opportunities facing the emerging and smallholder systems. This then was the objective of the study by the authors referenced below.

Emerging dairy herds (EDH) comprise mainly the beneficiaries of one of government’s land reform program and who keep more than 15 milking cows on land larger than 1 hectare and produce more than 100 litres of milk per day. Smallholder dairy herds (SDH) on the other hand comprise farmers keeping up to 15 head of milking cows and produce less than 100 litres of milk per day. In both definitions this is irrespective of breeds used. 

Cow performance data were obtained from the INTERGIS. It comprised of data on animals participating in the National Dairy Animal Recording and Improvement Scheme between 2004 and 2016. There were 38 549 test-day records of 1 662 cows from 19 emerging dairy herds(EDH) and 2 851 test-day records of 307 cows from 34 smallholder dairy herds (SDH). Data on herd management practices was collected through a survey, using a structured questionnaire on the herd owners during the period August-November 2016 from 27 EDH and 94 SDH in South Africa. Descriptive statistics were calculated to characterize performance and management practices.

Lactation results are shown in the accompanying table.


Parameter                                                   EDH                                                SDH

                                                        Mean               SD                           Mean             SD


Daily milk yield (kg)                     11.9              0.05                             5.32             0.1

Milk fat (%)                                   3.21             0.004                            3.79            0.01

Milk protein (%)                           3.54              0.02                             4.30            0.04

SCC (cells/ml)                               405               7.32                             919             57.8

Age at first calving (months)       30               0.47                               28             1.42

Calving interval (days)               450                8.5                               459             18.7


The most commonly used breed on SDH was crossbreed (75%), followed by the Jersey (21%) and Holstein (4%), with an average herd size of 5 cows. On EDH, the predominant breed was Holstein (50%), followed by crossbred (38%), Dairy Shorthorn (5%), Jersey (5%) and Ayrshire(2%), and the average herd size was 62 cows. Nearly all SDH (100%) used natural service for breeding, whereas 7.4% of EDH used artificial insemination, 81.5% used natural mating and 11.1% used both. The majority of EDH (63%) had fixed milking parlours, 25.9% had movable machines and 11.1% used hand milking, whereas most SDH (92.6%) used hand milking and only 7.4% had movable milking machines. Natural grazing with supplement on communal land was predominant (58.8%), 30.9% used grazing only, 2.9% used pasture with supplement and 7.4% followed a zero grazing feeding system on SDH, whereas 29.6% of EDH were on zero grazing, 22.3% used pasture with supplement, 7.4% used pasture only, 22.2% used grazing with supplement and 18.5% used grazing only. 

Individual cow production performance differs between the two systems. Udder health (somatic cell count) was better in EDH, which was not according to expectation. Hand-milked cows are generally known to have better udder health in spite of different management practices observed in the two production systems. 

It was concluded that since EDH produced more milk with less butterfat and protein compared to SDH, breeding strategies that match the predominant environment need to be developed for the two productions systems, and these should be underpinned by improved herd management practices.


A.E. Muntswu, T. Chitura, S.A. Abin & C.B. Banga, 2017. Characterisation of emerging and smallholder dairy production systems in South Africa. In: Proc. of the 50th Annual Congress of the SA Society for Animal Science, Port Elizabeth, 18-21 September 2017.