A few weeks ago i received a gift bag of Fair Cape Goodies [Mousse and Yoghurt and Mousse and other non Mousse things – you can see where my passion lies!] which were all really great and so i shared a blog post about some of their Recycling Vibes [which you can read over here].
So when i received an email from my contact Noni, asking me if i would be interested in visiting the Fair Cape Dairy Farm aka the place where all of the magic happens, i was instantly excited for two main reasons:
 The idea of all the different cow-related puns i could sneak into one Fair Cape blog post [i know, i know, you’re thinking, “how dairy!”]; and
 The possibility of more free stuff.
Oh, and then the idea of seeing what happens behind the scenes and trying to ascertain whether Fair Cape really do have the happiest cows on the planet [probably not, but happiest cows in captivity? Read on and see!] felt like it would be a fun adventure.
Looking back, if i was going to add a third reason to that list, it would be the experience of being a minority. Young to middle-aged lifestyle and mommy bloggers descending on this dairy farm and then this one dude with a purple cap and the tattoo of a fish on my arm. Yeah, i stood out a little.
Behind the Milking Glass
Let me spoiler alert right from the outset and say we did get an incredible bag filled with free things, and by that i mean that Chocolate Mousse was present #HappyCamper but that did not affect in any way what i am going to write. Because i genuinely had a really great time and learned some things and have a pretty decent impression of the work Fair Cape is doing.
Also, while i’m sure we all get it wrong in some ways and i imagine this company is no different, there really does seem to be a whole lot of truth to the ‘Fair’ part of the name in a number of intentional ways. And this dairy farm is definitely situated in the Cape, so good name all round really.
What i didn’t know was that the Dairy Farm is run by five brothers. The farm has been in the family for generations and instead of dividing it into smaller pieces, they decided to make it into a commercial venture and work it all together. Once a week they tend to have groups of grade four kids coming in to watch the fun [and so informative – i think i understand milk production somewhat!] intro video and have a tractor ride [which we go to do] and hear all about what goes on there. So there is a sense of family running through the place.
First thing we saw as we were welcomed into a room with snacks and drinks was the window it has on to the milking platform which is a revolving metallic stage that takes 60 cows at a time for a ten-minute milking session, which happens three times a day for each cow. Plus/minus forty litres of milk per cow per session. That is a fascinating sight and seems to be really quite efficient. And while i’m not convinced the cows particularly enjoy the ride, it doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much at all.
Some Reflections from my en-cow-nter
i could go on about the tour and the processes and all the stuff we saw and heard, but i’m sure most of that can be found in other places. And i don’t want this to get too crazy long. So rather let me share some brief reflections on things which stood out for me:
# We saw some solar panels on the roof of the cowshed and all of the milking that they do during the day runs off of the electricity from there. And if Eskom allowed them to put excess electricity back into the grid, they would be able to do so much more #ShameOnYouEskom
# They recycle something like 120000 litres of water every day which they then use for cleaning and other things.
# They have a poo machine. Okay, technically a poo separator but still, what a cool machine. Separates the liquids from the solids. The water is reused and they use the solids on the land as they grow a lot of their own food for the cows. Since they have been doing this they have actually improved the soil quality #MindBlown – it is a much more organic process and so they have been able to eliminate a lot of fertilisers #PlanetWin
# Their motto “Do the right thing” informs everything they do. This is where i have questions, as one should, and not because of anything i saw or heard, but because i know people. i imagine, just like any other business or organisation, that there is some mess and some brokenness and some injustice going on, but what i can say is that it really does seem like they are doing a lot right. That is encouraging.
# Last interesting fact is that when the cows are about to give birth they go on Mooternity leave. i coined that name and a bunch of the mommy and lifestyle blogger ladies thought it was legit. One for the minority man blogger!
# Actually one more, cos this is good. They are the first South African diary to show their carbon footprint on their milk bottles. A lot of the good things they are doing can be measured. They have also got a few programmes running where they partner with organisations such as The Smile Foundation who do amazing work and another organisation that are making Eco bricks that are going to be used to create reading benches in schools. So Fair Cape really does seem to care about making a difference.
Behind the Scenes of the dairy farm all seems well
Okay, so i’m not sure the word ‘tractor ride’ is accurate cos we were pulled behind the tractor in kind of a green truck trailer vibe, but i’ll take what i can get. One of the things i was intentional about was sneaking off during a moment of high joint-mommy-lifestyle-blogger-lady group selfie activity and speaking to the tractor driver whose name was ironically Ola [an ice-cream brand in SA].
With no bosses or Fair Cape marketing reps within earshot, i was able to have a few minutes with Ola asking what it is really like working at the diary farm [because that’s when you often get to see what is really going on]. Ola has been working there for 16 years and only has positive things to say about the experience and it really seemed like he meant it. He lives on site as many of the workers do and it sounds like there is a good community vibe amongst the workers.
That was really good to hear. And i think i will end off there, except to say one last thing which really helped shape my thinking around the dairy farm.
An In-cow-nvenient Dairy Farm Truth?
One of the women on the tractor said this: “If you want to buy milk from a shop, this is what it has to look like.” And i think she might be right.
The alternative would be smaller communities all with their own cows, which would require a decent-sized shift to the way things happen. But if we go the shop route, this probably is how it has to look, given the magnitude of the population.
So are these the happiest cows in the land? Probably not. They didn’t look particularly happy in their sheds or on the Cowndabout [which is probably what they should rename their cow spinning device – Hm, i wonder if they upped the speed if they could make milkshakes?] But are they treated decently? Special tread on the paths they walk so they don’t slip or hurt themselves might suggest so. A machine that gives them a massage if they press themselves up against it might say the same. Fans overhead to keep the temperatures pleasant also give that impression. i think they sit with the understanding that happy cows = good milk, or looked after cows at least. So overall i was impressed.
Seeing how Fair Cape treats their cows and listening to how they seem to look after their workers, and getting to see how they do a lot in terms of recycling and being intentional about making the best use of land and water and heat, makes me want to be intentional about using more of their products. Hearing that Woolworths milk is Fair Cape milk and Checkers milk is Fair Cape milk gave me the greatest chuckle. Almost like hearing Truth coffee is supplied beans from the people who bring us Koffiehuis. Or something.
Good job, Fair Cape, and thank you for the experience and education. And of course, mostly for the mousse. That mousse.
For a whole lot more of the information and stories about what Fair Cape do and how it goes down at the dairy farm, be sure to take a look at their web page over here.