THINK of Chile and it’s likely the rather unique shape of the country may initially spring to mind – spanning over half the length of the South American continent, the narrow territory is bounded inland by the Andes mountains. Given this geography, it’s no surprise that climatic conditions vary dramatically from the Atacama desert of the north to the Patagonian Antarctic in the far south.
With half-a-million dairy cows in milk and close to 6,000 commercial farms, the dairy industry is reasonably-sized relative to the population and serves an essential purpose in supplying fresh local dairy products to a population otherwise quite cut-off from neigh-bouring inland countries.
Total milk production at around 2.6 billion litres has changed little over the past 10 years due to a complexity of challenges, including social, environmental and economic. Nevertheless, an interesting sector to study given the range of systems encountered there, including an extensive world-leading robotic unit.
The drier northern regions of Chile predispose to more-corral-type sys-
tems with water availability a concern for producers. These higher-input, higher-yielding herds are primarily Holstein-Friesian with
fairly typical feed ingredients avail-able and diets common to those of USA producers with maize silage, alfalfa hay and ryegrass silage being common forages here. However, climatic conditions dictate that the north of the country accounts for a much lower production volume than elsewhere.
Production from grass
Travelling further south from the capital Santiago, and we encounter the bulk of the dairy industry – some 70 per cent of milk production is centred on this region.
With more-plentiful rainfall and
extensive expanse of land, the Osorno region is the dairy heartland and heavily grazing-focused. Here we see a strong New Zealand-type production focus and some exceptional grazing systems pro-ducing 8-9,000 litres per lactation on tight spring-calving systems, including 30 to 40-day ‘holiday’ periods on top units.
The Jersey breed and Holstein-Friesian crosses become much more common here, providing cows more-suited to extensive grazing.
These seasonal grass-based pro-duction systems suffer the same challenges as encountered in the Northern Irish environment where the spring flush of pasture can result in severe milk fat depression and milk fat: milk protein inversions not uncommon.
With milk payments heavily in-fluenced by milk fat production either on a per cent or kg/day basis, milk composition is of major
importance and advice on supple-mentation requires balancing to suit the changes in basal sward through the season.
Low fibre, high sugar and elevated fat concentrations in spring grass promote classical milk fat depression resulting primarily from production of trans fatty acids in the rumen. These conditions require careful supplementation to counter this nutritional imbalance where milk fat ‘crashes’ from over 4.0 per cent to 3.0 per cent are reported.
Earlier data from the AFBI Hills-borough site in County Down, based on pasture supplementation with fibre- and starch-based cakes, provides valuable input for these herds despite their distance from our local environment!
Aside from the extensive grazing platforms, technological develop-ments have certainly made great strides into sections of the industry. Of primary interest is the 4,000 cows-in-milk Ancali herd which, with 65 robots in place, is the largest robotic milking herd in the world. This highly-impressive single-site unit of Holstein-Friesian cows yields over 14,000 litres with target milk fat of 3.9 per cent and milk protein at 3.4 per cent.
Nutritional management of such a high-performing herd is critical and management of the glucogenic: lipogenic balance is of interest, particularly with the typically high starch levels in the ration, up on 28 per cent.
At this level of production the requirements for fat are high and a particular interest on this unit is ensuring sufficient dietary fat supply to provide the steroid nucleus needed to enable progesterone production, the key hormone for pregnancy initiation and maintenance.
This can be safely achieved via rumen-protected fat supple-mentation, which avoids the fibre-depressing effects of liquid oils or high-oil ingredients such as brewer’s grains, while individual fatty acids must be considered when targeting specific aspects of production – higher oleic fatty acids to aid body condition and fertility and higher palmitic acid to push milk fat production, a balance of which are found in the recently-launched Mega-Max product from Volac Wilmar.
Milk processing and markets
Milk supply in Chile is primarily destined for ‘home’ consumption with the country now a net importer of dairy products. Liquid milk, yoghurt and cheese production are the primary destinations for
processed milk, leading to an emphasis on milk fat production.
The largest co-op, Colun, process close to 30 per cent of the national milk production, collected from its
730+ members in the southern grazing heartland with suppliers averaging 6,700 litres per cow from a grass base.
Overall, and with some amazing scenery, it’s easy to appreciate the attraction of this part of the world but there’s no doubt that the Chilean dairy industry faces similar pressures to those in our own local industry.
While the base level of production and technology is increasing, the top few farms produce a highly disproportionate volume of total milk supply.