I never pictured what majesty it took for me to enjoy a tetra pack of milk until last weekend when Janelle and I had the privilege of visiting Al Safi Dairy Farm in Al Kharj. We went along the trip organized by the Villas Rosas Compound that took over an hour and a half out of the city on the wee hours of a Saturday morning. Sleepy me! Haha. But all in the name of doing something new, we had no complaints. Especially sine we were visiting a Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Integrated Dairy Farm in the World!
Upon entering the huge facility, cars go through a ‘disinfecting’ sprinkler (twice) until you reach the area where the official Al-Safi tour bus awaits. Tours can only accommodate a maximum of 40 pax at a time simply because of the bus capacity. A young Saudi guy with a microphone-headset and a mini-speaker served as our pleasing tour guide for the day (Shoutout to Mr. Nader of Al Safi’s PR Department ^_^).
As our tour began, Mr. Nader began giving us a brief history of Al Safi Dairy Farm. It all started in 1979 when Prince Abdullah Al Faisal brought 6,500 Holstein cows to Saudi Arabia all the way from Amsterdam. He brought the best breed that could survive in Saudi Arabia’s dry and hot climate. Thirty-six years later, Al Safi Dairy Farm currently houses over 50,ooo Holstein cows. 25,00 are for milking and the rest are young male and female calves.
Our tour guide made an exceptional note that there is no sexual contact between male and female cows in their farm. All the female cows are impregnated via immaculate conception…(just kidding, haha!). Let me re-do that, eherm: All the female cows are impregnated via artificial insemination where their genetic coding are also manipulated in such a way that only 10 to 20% of the conceived cows will be male. This is more beneficial to them since it is only the female cows who produce milk. In the case that male cows are born, they still do care for them until they are 7-months old from which they are sold to private owners or other companies for their meat.
By this time of the tour, we went by the place where the newly born cows are and I was so surprised to see that all the baby cows under 24 hours already look like real cows already! (Disclaimer: I grew up in the city, so I had no idea). Within just minutes of being pulled away from inside their mothers, they are dragged to the nesting area with the other baby cows.
Meanwhile, we went around to other different spots within the 29 kilometer farm to see where the young calves were (3 months old or less), where they manufacture their feeds and the milking parlor, as they call it.
In the photo above, you will see that these calves are caged because they are still either male or female at this point. Those who are allowed to roam altogether are all female cows. Each cow is also tagged and color-coded based on their birth, rate of milk delivered and whether it has gotten sick in the past or not. A round-the-clock veterinary doctor checks on all the cows on an hourly basis.
All the feeds that the cows receive at the Al Safi Dairy Farm are imported from the US, UK and Canada with a few local ingredients. They dedicate a huge part of their farm to cultivate and pack these feeds for their cows and No Smoking signs are plastered all over the place! Obviously.
Then we went to the Milking Parlor, where the cows line up (in such an orderly way, if I may add) for the pumping machinery to be attached to their glands and get the milk. It’s a very sophisticated piece of engineering work where the cows each have their own area with ceiling fans and shower sprinkles to keep them cool and relaxed while we take their milk from them. As we watched this, we were at awe and couldn’t help but tell each cow, “Thank you for your service to humanity.”
An average cow can give up to at least 40L of milk a day. Then we learned that there are such things as “VIP Cows” who are able to produce up to 70L of milk per day. From here, all the milk collected goes to the manufacturing plant. Unfortunately, we were no longer allowed to take photos there. But what I can tell you is that inside were humongous industrial machines that showed how the milk is treated and packaged until it reaches the delivery trucks. It really struck me how modern technology has made it extremely easy for us. If it weren’t for these machines, we would all be probably milking cows on our own in the farms and smelling like farm girls. Which, by the way is how we almost ended up smelling like after visiting the cow area.
It is also improtant to note that in 2001, French company Danone engaged in a partnership with Al Safi Dairy Farm to help produce their products. They make use of all the Al Safi dairy products in their own and share the profits from it. In case you didn’t know, Al Safi is also responsible for the brands of Activia, Danette, Actimel, Danao and Safio. Of course, by the end of our trip, we got to take home some of their sample products. Yay because I am particularly a fan of Activia Yogurts! 🙂
***UPDATE: We heard that Al Safi Dairy is undergoing renovations and has stopped their farm tours. No word on when they will resume.
Al Safi Dairy Farm