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1608 PD: Five generations of Chilean milk

Leon Leavit Published on 06 November 2008

Traveling one afternoon with Ricardo Ehrenfeld Stolzenbach, a veterinarian and sales manager for Cooprinsem, a farmer cooperative in Puerto Varas, Chile, was most informative. Ricardo is in charge of the A.I. department in his area, supervising three technicians and three insemination routes, along with handling direct herd sales and matings. His company represents CRI, Accelerated and Holland Genetics in the area. The average semen price is 6,500 pesos per unit (U.S. $13.00). They average 1.6 services per conception; however, in some of the better herds it is as low as 1.3 services per conception. The average calving interval for well-managed herds is 13 months.

The main dairy region of Chile has about 400,000 cows distributed in herds of 100 head or more, and another 200,000 cows on survival farms (25 cows and less). Many dairies in the Osorno area are larger – up to 1,500 head.



While the Holstein breed dominates the dairy scene, about 20 percent of the dairy cattle are for dual purpose (i.e., milk and meat). Ricardo said these are called Red Friesians. Dairymen are using Swedish Red, which consists of a cross of Ayrshire, Shorthorn and some local ancient Swedish breeds. Ricardo says they are popular because of lower somatic cell count, better fertility and overall health. For the “survival farms,” when their milking performance falters significantly, they then can be marketed for beef at a handsome price. Some are being crossed with other breeds. The importation of Swedish Reds began in earnest about four years ago.

There is no government regulation of milk prices as it is a free market economy governed by supply and demand. Eight years ago the average price was 80 pesos per liter (U.S. $7.24 per hundredweight). Now the price is about 200 pesos per liter (U.S. $18.10 per hundredweight). Major milk processing facilities include Nestle, Soprole (owned by the New Zealanders), Colun and Loncoleche with a host of smaller independent cheese manufacturing operations.

National data indicates the average production is 3,800 liters (8,500 pounds) per cow per year; however, those herds on the National Data (similar to DHIA) produce between 7,500 liters (16,840 pounds) to 12,000 liters (26,400 pounds) per cow per year. Nearly all of the milk is for whole milk consumption and cheese production, but the export surplus is increasing.

Ricardo’s great-great grandfather was part of the German immigration that started in Valdivia and spread south and east. He was a miller by trade, and one of his sons (when he was in his 20s) went back to Germany and brought back 15 head of registered Dutch Friesian cattle, settling near Puerto Varas. This grandfather had eight children, four boys and four girls. One of the girls married Ricardo’s grandfather, who moved from Osorno to the area of Los Muermos, settling on 400 hectares of native land that only had 15 hectares cleared off.

Decades passed by, the herd grew and eventually nearly all the land developed into production. Later in his life, he bought two neighbors’ farms. Eventually he divided the farm between his three remaining kids, each one receiving 120 cows. The herd was divided by cow families. Each brother received some members of the original cow families, and no cows have been imported onto the farms since then.


I visited the farm Ricardo’s grandfather bought from his grandmother’s brother. It is named “Los Esteros,” for the two creeks that run through it year round. The double-5, side-opening parlor milks the dairy’s 300 cows through at the rate of 65 cows an hour on a 2X-milking schedule. The milkers work for 20 days, then take four days off, then the next six days they work on other assignments at the dairy.

The baby calves are fed 2 liters (a half gallon) of colostrum as soon as they are born and then 4 liters (1 gallon) more five hours later. They are fed colostrum for the first three days of their life and then they’re fed grain with milk via an automatic feeder, which can handle 30 calves. The goal is to wean them at 250 pounds, between 80 and 90 days, after which they go directly to pasture. When in groups they receive soy meal and flaked corn with minerals along with free-choice grass. Wheat straw is fed in the winter.

Heifers freshen at 23 to 26 months of age. A.I. breeding is scheduled so that no calves are born during the hottest months of January and February. This also coincides with workers’ vacation times and the workload at the dairy.

Both production groups receive grain in the parlor during milkings in relation to its production level. The herd averages 3.2 lactations per cow. The oldest milking cow already calved for the ninth time. Most of the bulls go to the slaughterhouse. Every year they sell about 20 percent of their pregnant heifers to neighboring dairies while keeping the balance as replacement stock.

The all-registered Holstein herd’s production averages 66 pounds per cow although in the wintertime it has been as high as 82 pounds per day. The highest lifetime production for an individual cow was 234,620 pounds in nine lactations. The highest producer for a single lactation was 39,160 pounds. The herd currently averages 23,000 pounds on the pasture diet with supplementation of grain and silages when needed.

As my tour of the family dairy was ending, we passed several lush pastures. Ricardo, pointing to a distant group of grazers, commented, “This group produces 50 pounds per day and that group over there produces 80 pounds per day.” He continued, “The highest producing cow we’ve owned gave 165 pounds per day. And right now we have many that are peaking at 130 pounds per day.” PD