Paco Magsaysay gives us tour of his dairy farm and lets us in on his secrets to running successful dairy businesses.
When most people hear the word ‘farm, the first thing they think of is ‘cows.’ Ironically, dairy isn’t a big industry in the Philippines, even though it carries a lot of potential. “Fresh milk is kind of foreign here,” says Paco Magsaysay, President of Real Fresh Dairy, which produces Holly’s Milk brand of fresh milk, yogurt, and cheese. The farm also provides milk to Carmen’s Best, Magsaysay’s gourmet ice cream brand. “I think fresh milk in general is not a very understood concept in the Philippines because everybody grew up drinking (powdered milk).”
Real Fresh Dairy
Real Fresh Dairy Farms, Inc. (RFD) started in 2007 when Magsaysay’s father, Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., realized that the Philippines’ second largest import is dairy (the first one being rice). “We import 99.6% of our dairy needs,” Magsaysay explains. “This means the Philippines only produced .4% of its dairy. The 99.6% come from other countries, primarily as powdered milk. A lot of the fresh milk you see in groceries (are actually imported) as powdered milk.”
At first, the Magsaysays worked with another farmer, keeping their cows in his farm. When the farmer decided to expand, the Magsaysays realized that it was tie for them to build their own farm. They found a 27-hectare property in Brgy. Masaya, Laguna. It contains various buildings like barns, a milking parlor, and a processing plant for milk and cheese. A sign welcomes visitors, cautioning them to watch out for cows crossing. A tiny stream runs through the property, its waters fed by the nearby Pansol hot springs. It is clear and filled with fish, something Magsaysay is proud of. “Sometimes you see turtles and swans,” he says. “(You can tell) we don’t use chemicals in our farm because other animals can live in this area.”
He is quick to point out, however, that this doesn’t make the cows, or their milk, organic. “We can’t call it organic because we give them vitamins. And then when they get sick, we give them (medicine),” Magsaysay says. “But I do not give them boosters or steroids to make them produce more milk.”
RFD currently has 250 heads of dairy cows. They worked with the Department of Agriculture and the National Dairy Authority’s program to import milk cows, since there are no dairy breeds indigenous to the Philippines. Their first batch was 100 heads of pregnant Holstein-Sahiwal heifers from New Zealand. “They’re partly Sahiwal, so they’re not the full 800–1000 kilo Holstein Friesian cows that you see (in commercials),” Magsaysay says. “It’s a smaller dairy cow.”
Cows spend most of their day eating. Milk-producing countries traditionally have vast grasslands for their cattle to graze on. This is not possible in the Philippines, so dairy farms like RFD supplement their cows’ food via feed and grain as well as with grass obtained through the cut and carry method, where, like its name says, grass is cut by the farmer and carried to the cows’ feeding trough. “We leased some land and we grow corn or whatever we need and we harvest it,” Magsaysay explains.
Cows don’t eat grass all their lives; feeding them is a bit more complex than that. “The diet of a child or a new born calf, is different from when it’s pregnant, when it’s milking, and so on,” Magsaysay says. “Cows will have about ideally 12 to 14 different feed mixes its lifetime… and we practice about six of them… It’s a combination of cat grass, molasses, soy, spent grain or barley, corn, and silage; we have a chopper to make everything smaller so they can eat it.”
Part of the farm also is used to grow food for the cows. “We want to grow right plants for the cows,” Magsaysay says. “We’re working with a seed company in New Zealand to test what will be best for (Philippine soil and climate).”
Cows eat about 10% of its weight every day. “Our cows average 300-500 kilos each, which means each cow will have to eat 30-50 kilos a day. So they’re not like people eating breakfast and lunch. They’re just eating the whole day,” Magsaysay says. “It’s all a cow does: eat, breathe, and sleep. So the more that the cow is relaxed, the more (milk) it gives you.”
A cow’s gestation period is nine months, just like a human. “A cow in heat is kinda frisky and kinda jumping around,” Magsaysay says.
The folks at RFD paint the backs of their cows because other cows will mount those in heat. The farmers can tell that a cow is in heat when the paint on their backs get scratched off. “We need to impregnate them within 24-hours. If we miss that window, we need to wait another 21 days,” Magsaysay says. So can you imagine how much milk we lose when missed the 24-hour window? If we average 12 liters a day (per cow), that’s so much milk we’ll lose.”
Calves are separated from their mothers after they are born. They are fed colostrum, a fancy name for mother’s milk. “The foundation of our cows are important because we’re looking at years of hopefully good production from them.”
Cows are rested for two months before they are ready to be bred again.
Milk production wanes in the summer since the heat makes the cows uncomfortable. Magsaysay admits to playing classical music to help keep the cows relaxed, especially during milking time.
The farm has a milking parlor, a cement area that the cows are led into for milking. The cows are milked twice a day, 4am and 4pm. “You’ll get about 60 to 65% of their total milk for the day (from their first milking). (This is) because at night, they’re sleeping and the weather is cooler, (so) they’re able to produce more milk,” Magsaysay says.
The cows are milked via machine, with a milk pump connected to each of the cow’s four teats. The whole process takes about 20-25 minutes. Each batch of milk is kept separate until they can be tested for quality. “The pressure of the sucker has to mimic the sucking of the calf. If you set the pump too fast or too slow, the cow risks getting mastitis (bacterial infection of the teats),” Magsaysay says. “We didn’t know that when we started, but these are the things that we learned from running the farm and milking the cows every day… (that, and) talking to experts and getting people to help us in different aspects of dairy farming.”
RFD just built a lab on site where they test their dairy products, which are sold under the brand Holly’s. “Whether it’s yogurt, cheese, fresh milk, or even the raw milk that we get from other farms (when production isn’t enough, Holly’s will use milk from other dairies, but only for its cheese), we test it here,” Magsaysay says.
The lab is also where some of the products are made. They have a cream separator that separates raw (unpasteurized) milk into non-fat milk and cream. The amount of fat in milk is determined by the percentage of cream mixed back into it. Whole milk has 3.7% cream, low fat milk has 2%, and non-fat has 0%. The lab also contains chilling tanks to keep the milk cool.
There is also a pasteurizer, which heats the milk enough to kill the potentially harmful bacteria that might be present in it. “We (pasteurize it at) 76.5 degrees for 15 seconds then bring it back down to a cooler temperature. Otherwise, the milk will have a cooked taste. We call it as HTST or High temperature short time… We (also) do ESL or Extended Shelf Life–that pushes the number of days that (the milk) will be good.”
After the milk is pasteurized, it is put in the homogenizer to, well, homogenize. “It’s the breaking of the fat to evenly distribute it throughout the milk,” Magsaysay explains. That way, you don’t get lumpy bits of milks solids and tasteless whey; the whole bottle of milk tastes the same.
“What we have here was the first fresh milk processing plant in the Philippines,” Magsaysay says. “But this means that it has a short shelf life–about 10-14 days.” This, as opposed to the months boxed milk shelf life promises. According to Magsaysay, another farm that produces fresh milk but uses a different pasteurizing process is Lica Farms in Lipa, Batangas.
He further explains that ‘fresh milk’ is different from the cartons of UHT (Ultra High Temperature) milk that line grocery store shelves. “It’s the highest temperature you can pasteurize milk at. It takes out all the vitamins and bacteria but then it’s no longer fresh milk because you can keep it on the shelf, not refrigerated.”
This is why UHT is more popular in 3rd world countries were refrigeration might be an issue or where electricity that goes on and off. “But when you go to Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, US, Japan, (they prefer) fresh milk. Why? Because refrigeration is not a problem.”
This means that, depending on how the cows feel that day, running out of milk can be a reality. When that happens, Magsaysay just deals with it. “If we run out of milk, then we run out of milk… Maski nga tutukan mo ng baril yung baka hanggang doon lang yung gatas niya,” he quips. “(Clients) have to understand that… (we can) deliver up to what we can deliver. (Other than that) you need to find another source.”
It is this short shelf life that made Magsaysay go into the ice cream business. “My dad asked me to help him use up the excess milk. Of course, I first thing I thought of was to sell it,” he says. “The first account I got was Amanpulo. (Then I thought,) if (my milk is good enough for) Amanpulo, (it means) I can make something special with this.”
Magsaysay set up Carmen’s Best Dairy Products in 2009, naming the company after his only daughter. “Us getting into ice cream was directly related to having the dairy farm,” he says. “So if you have somebody who’s starting an ice cream business, the first thing you should ask them is, ‘where do you get the milk?’ Because that’s the main ingredient of ice cream. And ice cream is a dairy product.”
Carmen’s Best was a home project at first. “We just want to sell it in Ayala, Alabang. We were not looking to sell it anywhere else… But people weren’t buying our ice cream, so I had to look for other outlets,”Magsaysay says.
“The first outlet that carried us was Chit Juan’s Echostore. She had just open in Serendra at that time. This was 2012. When she opened other Echostores around the Philippines, napasama kami doon. Sa Davao, Cebu. Doon kami lumaki. But (it) was more social media. Were just posting stuff. Wala pang Instagram noong ((2011-2012), so Facebook lang.”
Magsaysay conceptualizes all of Carmen’s Best’s flavors. “I travel a lot and I eat ice cream all over the place. (Carmen’s Best’s flavors are) really more to my taste. That’s why I don’t have (exotic flavors). I don’t like that. I’m more (about) basic ice cream,” he says. “We’re also becoming more commercial… so it’s hard to keep coming out with new flavors.”
Part of the proceeds from Carmen’s Best go to the PGH Medical Foundation, Inc. “Since we started in 2011, we have donated over P250k to the foundation,” Magsaysay says. “If you were to include my personal donation and (that of the) other companies I run, our donation will exceed P500k.”
With so little players in the Philippine dairy industry, there is much room for RFD to grow, especially since it prizes product quality. “The integrity of the product (is important). Whether it’s the fresh milk, the cheese, or the ice cream,” Magsaysay says. “Because if I had plans of lowering quality at any point, I wouldn’t name (one of my companies) after my daughter.”