São Bento Farm is the first dairy farm in Brazil in the Certified Humane® program.Sérgio Costa, operates the São Bento Farm, a 370-acre dairy farm in Cachoeira Paulista-São Paulo State, Brazil. This is the first dairy farm in Brazil and only one of two dairy farms in Humane Farm Animal Care’s (HFAC) Certified Humane® program that produce milk.
According to Adele Douglass, Executive Director for HFAC, very few dairy farms in the U.S. want to meet the standards required by the Certified Humane® program.
“Our standards are very stringent and most dairy farms aren’t willing to make the necessary changes to qualify for certification,” said Douglass. “We were very impressed with how conscientious São Bento Farm is about animal welfare.”
4th generation family farmers
São Bento Farm began 50 years ago, when Francisco José de Andrade Costa (Sérgio´s grandfather) acquired 700 hectares (around 1,750 acres) in the city of Cachoeira Paulista (São Paulo State), between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In the early 1960s, the government took 80% of the farmland to establish the National Center of Weather Forecast and Space Research. As a result, the Costa family lost 550 hectares (1,375 acres) of their farm land. They decided to focus the remainder of their operations on milk production.
Costa’s grandfather and father, Danilo de Andrade Costa, operated the dairy farm, but he says, his mom, Dulce Maria Valadão Cardoso, a teacher, did most of the farming because his dad travelled for his job with the Brazilian Air Force. “I can remember her protecting the farm by sleeping so many nights inside a Volkswagen beetle with a Winchester shotgun by her side,” said Costa. “Although my father was always the brain organizing the farm, my mom took over the labor and had to protect the land, since she was the only person on the farm while many farm thefts were occurring back then.”
As an only child, Costa helped his mom on the farm. At 14, however, his parents sent him to the U.S. to spend two years at Orme School in Mayer, Arizona, a boarding school where he began his formal farm training.
In 2006, Costa graduated from the Federal University of Lavras (Minas Gerais State-Brazil), with a degree in Agronomy, the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation. After Sérgio finished his master´s degree in 2008 at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul he took over the family farm business and started a new era of dairy farming that involved a huge educational outreach program to help other farmers in the region learn about humane farming practices.
Before returning to the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul for his PhD in Soil Science, Costa worked with his staff on humane farm animal practices to ensure the care and well-being of his animals. His farm manager, who only had a fourth grade education, went back to school as well to learn the skills necessary to utilize the farm’s software to keep Sergio informed about the farm operations while he was at school.
“Animal welfare was always a priority growing up on the farm,” says Costa. “Everything my family did was to enhance the quality of life for the animals. That was an ethic my parents instilled in me at a young age. So it’s important that I teach my staff and always be on the lookout for tools and resources that monitor the herd to ensure the best in animal welfare.”
Passing on knowledge beyond the family farm
Costa says that not every farm in Brazil is a family farm where knowledge is passed down from one generation to another. “I felt it was important to show future farm technicians how raising animals is not only about feeding or sheltering them, but going far beyond that so that both the animals and the people on the farm are happy,” he says.
To that end, Costa created informal, but practical dairy lessons for local high school and university agricultural students called the MEQ “milk, education and quality” Program. This launched as an informal training program to give students opportunities to intern on a farm and learn how to run a humane dairy.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Costa heard about the U.S.-based Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program through Korin, a Brazilian poultry producer and the first farm in South America to become Certified Humane® in 2009.
“When Korin started describing the program, I found out it was the type of certification that would fit our ‘ethical quality principles,’ which considers the balance between animal welfare, team welfare, education and training, and respect for the environment,” says Costa. “Our mission is to go above and beyond with animal care to ensure we’re meeting the highest standards for animal welfare. Certified Humane® fit perfectly with our farm’s philosophy.”
Life on a Brazilian Farm
Costa says that in Brazil, like the rest of the world, consumers are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from and how farm animals are treated.
His feeding program made it easy to follow Certified Humane’s® nutritional standards. The farm, which is home to 140 milking cows, 30 dry cows, one bull and 200 heifers, all cross-breed Zebu-Holstein cows, has grazing Bermuda grass and Brachiaria (palisade grass) pastures from November until April, which is spring and summer in Brazil. Sugarcane silage becomes the main forage source from May until October, which are fall and winter months in Brazil. The farm´s future project involves irrigation of Bermuda grass areas, which are oversown with Italian ryegrass for grazing from June to September.
“There are never any antibiotics, hormones or animal by-products in any of the food,” says Costa. “People may think we’re crazy for putting so much focus on animal welfare,” he says. “But my parents taught me as a citizen, it was my duty to do what I could to make things better. We want to become a role model for other farmers and demonstrate good animal welfare.”
Costa is taking his knowledge of humane dairy farming and sharing it well beyond Brazil’s borders. In addition to teaching Brazilian farmers and students how to operate a dairy farm with humane principles, São Bento Farm also has become home to an international training program for students from the Dalum Landbrugsskole Agricultural College in Denmark. Furthermore, Costa is creating the TECHMILK program, a formal, up to two-year training program, that prepares agricultural students for becoming a humane dairy business manager. This program will be launched next year in a partnership with the Castrolanda Cooperative, Castro´s Christian Institute Agricultural School and Paraná-s Agricultural Learning National Teaching Service.
“We want to train students and elevate their learning on how to do things according to Certified Humane standards,” says Costa. “We want them to understand why they do certain things for a farm animal – and then take that knowledge and share it on other farms around the world. Our hope is that we can be a catalyst for changing dairy farm practices everywhere.”
For more information, visit Sao Bento Farm’s website at www.querenciasaobento.com.br