IT consultants leave their desk to pursue passion for farming

IT IS not unusual to find people switching professions in pursuit of a passion or a dream.

For IT consultants Balakrishnan Nair, Paul Foster and Felix Pius, farming was just such a passion.

“During the course of work, we met many expatriates who constantly gave their opinions on the milk available in the retail stores here.

“They felt that while most of the dairy products were imported from other countries, they had yet to find any to their liking, as it tastes different from what they are used to drinking,” said Balakrishnan, who prefers to be called Bala,

With that in mind, Bala said the trio decided to visit Australia to find a suitable breed of dairy cows.

“We picked Jersey cows, as they are relatively small and are more adaptable than other breeds,” he said.

Bright Cow Sdn Bhd was founded in October 2010, with its main focus on dairy farming.

He said a survey revealed that Malaysia imports 95% (1.03 billion litres) of its milk from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Holland, among others.

Bala said Jerseys can produce 10 to 15 litres of milk per day depending on their lactation cycle. Jersey cows are known to peak at the third or fourth lactation cycle before finally tapering off.

“After all the research, we brought in the first batch of 100 pregnant cows in July 2011.

“They were air-flown and we were only able to bring in cows four to six months pregnant due to airline regulations,” he said, adding that the cows started calving between November and December 2011.

Bala said about RM4mil was pumped in to set up the farm on a 217,800 sq ft piece of land in Bukit Rotan, Kuala Selangor. The cost also included the purhase of the cows, which cost between A$2,000 (RM5,900) to A$2,500 each.

The Jersey cows are kept in a barn in Bukit Rotan, Kuala Selangor using the evaporative cooling system, whereby its temperature is regulated between 26 to 28 degress Celcius.
Modern facilities: The Jersey cows are kept in a barn in Bukit Rotan, Kuala Selangor, that uses an evaporative cooling system that keeps temperatures regulated between 26°C to 28°C.

“Once the cows started calving, we would give them a period of two weeks to feed their calves before milking them,” he said, adding that milking is done twice a day. The calves are kept for three to six months and then sold to local farmers.

Since not all the cows produce milk at the same time, the first batch of 50 non-pasteurised and non-homogenised bottles of milk only became available early last January.

Production has been steadily rising, from 200 to 300 litres per day initially, then to 400 to 600 litres per day. Currently, daily production stands at 1,500 litres per day.

Bala said the company has started delivering to homes and this has received a warn response from customers.

“As the demand was overwhelming, we thought it was time to increase production and this could only be done by having more cows on the farm, so we bought another 100 cows in May,” he said.

Bright Cow milk is currently distributed at more than 10 locations, including Jason’s Food Hall in Bangsar Shopping Centre, Village Grocers in Bangsar Village and 1 Mont Kiara, Ben’s Independant Grocer in Publika, Jaya Grocer in Mutiara Tropicana and The Intermark, Presto in Citta Mall and Cold Storage in Solaris Mont Kiara.

Packed in one litre bottles, the milk retails at between RM9.30 to RM9.80 per bottle. For home delivery, it is available at RM8 per bottle with a minimum order of two bottles.

Bala said the product was also being distributed to restaurants and hotels depending on the committed volume.

Bright Cow recorded RM500,000 in revenue last year and it is targetting to hit RM750,000 by end-December. The company’s projection for next year is RM1.3mil.

There are various challenges faced in the dairy farming and these include ensuring that the cows have the right feed to maintain milk production.

“We work closely with feed nutritionists (feed millers) to come up with concentrates made for Jersey cows.

“Our cost to feed a milking cow can range from between RM12 to RM15 a day, while it costs between RM5 to RM7 per day to feed non-milking cows ranges.

“Cows that milk generally require feed that has higher nutrient contents compared to the ones that do not milk,” said the 50-year-old Bala, adding that the cows feed on congo grass or Brachiaria ruziziensis (specially grown in the vicinity of the farm) and rice straw. Rice straw is obtained from a padi nursery that is also part of the company’s efforts to provide good nutrients for the animals.

The machine producing mozarella cheese in the factory located in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya.
Big investment: Part of the machinery used to produce mozarella cheese in Romani Food’s RM1.5mil factory.

Bala said their concept of farming is called farming on limited land, which means that the cows are housed in huge barns that use an evaporative cooling system to keep the temperature regulated between 26°C to 28°C.

In addition to that, maintaing the cleanliness of the barn is important to ensure the animals stay healthy and produce good milk at all times.

“When a barn is kept clean, it is free from the stench found in most farms in Malaysia. As such, it is important to ensure cleanliness standards are at the highest to prevent the smell from staying on the animals, which would eventually affect the milk the cow produces as well,” Bala explained.

While there is growing demand for Bright Cow’s milk, Bala said the company was priviledged when a group of Italian entrepreneurs approached them with the idea of producing cheese locally.

The Italian group was introduced to Bright Cow Sdn Bhd by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.

“They tasted our milk and took back some samples to Italy.

“We started talking about the possibility of producing cheese during the third quarter of last year, which eventually led to the setting up of Romani Food Sdn Bhd in March and the commissioning of the factory in early October.

About RM1.5mil was invested to set up the factory, which includes the purchase of equipment. Bright Cow Sdn Bhd has a 20% share in Romani Food,” he said.

Romani Food Sdn Bhd director Alberto Bassi, when met at the factory in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, said as there was no factory producing cheese in Malaysia, they saw its potential in the market.

“Most of the dairy products available at the retail stores here are imported from other countries.

“Bright Cow’s milk has a high fat content, which is why we saw its potential in producing quality cheese,” said Bassi, adding that the factory had started its production for home delivery and is currently producing ricotta, premium ricotta, magrello (similar to feta cheese), paneer and mascapone, among others.

In terms of pricing, Bassi said it would be competitive.

“People generally think that the more expensive the product, the better it is. However, this is not really true for all products,” he said, adding that once the market for cheese was sustainable, they will be looking at producing yoghurt and ice-cream in the first quarter of next year.

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