BY VINA MEDENILLA
“Maayo” translates to “good” in Hiligaynon. For Antoinette Begre-Lacson, a dairy farmer, this term also comes in the form of a farm that amplifies her advocacies in animal welfare and natural farming.
Maayo Dairy Farm is located in Barangay Sicaba, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, where 40 naturally-grown cows can freely roam in an about 15 hectares of land. It is owned and managed by Antoinette and her husband, Alessandro Lacson.
The property has been passed down through generations of Alessandro’s family. In 2015, the couple converted portions of the land (previously devoted to sugarcane) into pastures. This is how they started a project that later grew into a business.
Before their cows became productive sources of dairy products, Antoinette shared, “We started with just two cows and [we] really just had them around as [pets]. The cows were actually a gift to me and my daughter from my husband, but at that time, I was too busy with other advocacies.”
Over time, the husband and wife were able to acquire more cows that enabled them to expand the operations and grab business opportunities.
Adapting to the changes
When they finally had enough cows in 2017, the Lacsons started supplying milk to a local cheese factory in their province. However, the cheese factory had to temporarily close amid pandemic, making it tough for the farm to stay in business.
At first, they had to resort to selling some of their cows for slaughter. Antoinette said, “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing the cows in such a way, as I have always dreamed of a no-kill sanctuary for our animals.”
With the mission to save their cows from slaughter, Antoinette began to develop dairy products using their cows’ milk.
Antoinette now devotes most of her time to processing dairy products and keeping the cows happy and healthy. Besides these farm tasks, this animal advocate is also a trustee of Talarak Foundation, a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to the captive breeding of our critically endangered endemic Philippine species, and forest protection and rehabilitation.”
She also manages Happy Horse Farms, an Equestrian Centre where guests can learn more about animals and good horsemanship or the art of riding a horse.
“Moo-velous” home of cows
As of the interview, Maayo Dairy Farm houses 40 cows of different ages and breeds. The cows are a mix of Holstein, Sahiwal, and Jersey breeds.
The 15-hectare property is surrounded by mango, santol, and small calamansi trees that provide the animals with enough shade and scratching posts.
Since cows are out in the pasture around the clock, 90 percent of their feed is forage crops like mulato and mombasa grass. These are supplemented with a feed mix made up of copra, soy, molasses, and salt. Madre de cacao, malunggay, and mulberries are also grown for their nutrition.
Processing the milk and other products
Hand milking of cows is performed twice a day. The milk is immediately stored in ice as they transport them to the commissary.
They filter the milk over cheesecloth before the gentle pasteurization and place them in sterilized glass bottles.
Maayo Dairy Farm also follows a 36-hour udder to door policy to ensure good quality of milk.
In hopes of contributing as low environmental impact as possible, Antoinette uses reusable glass bottles for their milk.
Moreover, they only pasteurize milk according to the amount of pre-orders to prevent spoilage, thereby minimizing food waste as well.
Maayo Dairy Farm produces pasteurized fresh milk in different flavors: plain, tablea, mocha, and strawberry. These are stored in one-liter glass bottles that are returnable. Hence, they only deliver to certain areas in Bacolod and Talisay Cities. “I also cluster and schedule deliveries to make it efficient when we consume our fossil fuels,” Antoinette added.
The farm also offers ice cream in reusable tin cans, which helps extend the product’s shelf life. “All our ice creams are made from natural ingredients, [with] no artificial colors or flavors. Some customers who truly adhere to our values return their ice cream [tin cans] that we can sterilize and use again.”
Maayo Dairy Farm produces about 300 liters of milk per week. One-third of this is sold in retail as pasteurized milk, 150 liters is supplied to the cheese factory, while the remaining milk is used for their ice cream.
It was a struggle to stay in business, especially during the onset of the pandemic, but when Antoinette started focusing on the development of dairy products, they saw an increase in profitability.
Challenges in operations
There are two main issues that the farm faces every year. During summer, the grasses dry up, and so the quality of the cow’s milk gets affected since their fodder mainly relies on the pastures.
“Since the technology is not readily available for local dairy farmers, it was a lot of trial and error on our part.” The establishment of their forage bank has greatly helped in maintaining their cow’s milk.
While cows love the wet season due to the lush pastures, this period makes calves susceptible to sickness. Giving extra care is important to prevent them from being unwell.
Working with the community
The Lacsons work with the families that live on the farm. Their farmworkers have been with their family for several years already. One of them is Mark Maming, the husband of their longtime helper, who is the current farm secretary. Another is Ernesto Blanca who started as their gardener, then became a groom to Antoinette’s horses, and is now a cowboy at the dairy farm.
In terms of management, the farm entrusts daily tasks to three cowboys as long as safety guidelines and respect for animals are observed.
“We like to provide long-term jobs for those who live around the farm. This ensures that the community we work with can find stability and that we live within a happy community. I would say we have been very lucky and blessed with the people in our community.”
Photos from Maayo Dairy Farm.
For more information, visit Maayo Farms.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s October 2022 issue.