Milking the industry: Boy Gatas of General Santos encourages Filipinos to venture into dairy farming

Bayliss Kurt Razo is General Santos’ Boy Gatas. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Milk is a staple food in many cultures. A newborn baby needs milk for sustenance, a kid needs milk for nutrition, a glass of milk helps one sleep soundly, and milk can be used to create delicious food, like desserts. 

Milk accompanies us from birth to adulthood which is why Bayliss Kurt Razo, or Boy Gatas, found value in producing milk through dairy farming.

Razo used to be a nurse before he engaged in dairy farming. Dairy farming was only introduced to the Philippines in 2014, and Razo was immediately interested. He attended all the seminars he could. “Even if it was in Cebu or Bohol, all of those [seminars] I attended because I was truly interested in learning,” Razo said in Tagalog. 

A baby starts young by making friends with a baby cow. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

In 2016, Razo established Dairysquare Farm, an 18-hectare dairy farm in General Santos. He started with five Holstein Friesian and Jersey cows imported from Australia. 

Province-wide milkman

Razo started dairy farming with five heads, but over the years, his farm has almost quadrupled in size. 

Prior to the pandemic in 2020, he had 19 cows for milk production. During the pandemic, he had to sell some of them, so he currently has only 11 heads. However, he is expecting to add 30 heads to his farm within the year.

Each imported cow from Australia roughly costs P150,000. Razo was fortunate to benefit from the National Dairy Authority’s program where they helped fund the purchase through a loan he could pay back in the next five years.

Dairysquare Farm currently has 11 cows that produce 17-19 liters of milk per day. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

As a dairy farmer, his day starts as early as four in the morning where he prepares the food for the cows. The cows eat twice a day, consuming napier grass and corn grown on the farm. Cow manure is then used as fertilizer for the crops, as Razo refuses to use synthetic products.

After the cows’ first meal, Razo cleans the cowhouse and proceeds to lead them to the milking parlor. Each of his cows are able to produce 17-19 liters of milk every day. The milk is then bottled or processed into milk bars. 

Razo said that one of the challenges of a dairy farm is selling the milk. While milk is often present in the Filipino diet through different mediums, it’s not present or consumed during every meal of the day. “The adults around here don’t really drink milk. That’s one of the challenges. Here at the plant, when we introduce [milk] people would buy it for their kids but not for themselves,” he said. “I even say, it’s a lot quicker for Tanduay (rum) to be finished rather than milk if you put both in front of older men.” 

The difficulty in selling the milk was solved by one of the programs under the previous Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, which was a feeding program for schoolchildren. Through this program, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the National Dairy Authority (NDA) collaborate with dairy farmers to acquire their milk and bring them to schools for children to drink. Razo is one of these farmers who produces hundreds of liters of milk for this program. 

Almost all of the milk his farm produces goes to DepEd, though some people go to his farm to buy bottles of milk. For the walk-ins, he charges P65 pesos per liter, a relatively low price.

“Our [dairy farming] has a purpose and it’s not just for business,” Razo said. “The purpose is to help people who can’t buy milk for their children.”

Trials of dairy farming in the Philippines

Compared to other agricultural products, dairy farming is a relatively new industry in the Philippines, and the thing about a new industry is that it’s bound to be full of trials and errors. “All of the struggles of caring for cows, I’ve gone through,” he said.

Right after the interview, Razo immediately attends to helping one of his cows give birth. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Razo said that despite attending all the dairy seminars he could, he could not get any intensive training on dairy farming, which is why everything he knows now is the result of his experiences. It was a steep challenge, especially since the cows that Razo acquired were imported and had to adapt to the country’s climate.

“There was an exchange student from Japan that was a vet that was assigned to my farm before. All of the techniques for the [dairy] farm, I’ve learned from him,” Razo said. “It was a blessing that he was on the farm. So all of the critical techniques he taught to me.” 

He coupled the techniques he learned with hard work and perseverance, and now Razo’s Dairysquare Farm has evolved to be a major producer of milk in his province.

Team Boy Gatas

Dairysquare Farm doesn’t just produce milk, but it also produces high quality dairy farmers.

The farm gained accreditation from the Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to be a learning site for dairy farming in 2020, and has been eagerly receiving students since then.’

Dairysquare Farm trainees are taught everything from food preparation, cow care, milking, and other dairy techniques. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Before it became a dairy school, Razo and his wife were the only ones working on the farm. “She even used to drive the truck we used to get the cows’ food, and she was even pregnant then,” he said.

Now that they have students, they get a lot more work done around the farm. “The [students] are the ones who get the food for the cows, they’re the ones who chop, who feed, lead the cows to drink, and also milking,” he said. “All of our techniques are taught to them so that they have knowledge before they go to New Zealand.”

So far, the farm has trained almost 600 students and almost all of the students who train at Dairysquare Farm go on to work overseas as dairy farmers. The farm has produced a lot of well-trained farmers that Dairysquare Farm is already well-known in New Zealand. Some students are also branching out to other countries, such as Canada.

Trainees work together to prepare food for the cows. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Aside from teaching his students, Razo also speaks at government-arranged seminars to talk about dairy farming. These seminars are also often held at his farm, where he is able to show and teach land preparation, proper care for the cows, and milking.

Although he is an established educator, Razo is still actively learning. He joins seminars from other countries to deepen his knowledge. “What we know can be different a year from now,” he said. “Every now and then, there will be a different system for dairy. So whatever is new, we should always keep up and not fall behind.”

He emphasizes the importance of proper care. “Our cows are dependent on the farmer, so what we give them is what they return,” he said. “If we take care of them properly, they will give us good milk.”

A dairy brotherhood

Razo’s passion as a dairy farmer has earned him the name ‘Boy Gatas’ in his area. ‘Boy Gatas’ was coined by kids he engaged with through his personal feeding program. He brought milk for the kids benefitting from the program, and they gave him a fitting nickname. Razo rolled with it and has used the name ‘Boy Gatas’ everywhere.

Students from his farm are called ‘Team Boy Gatas’, and they proudly mention it on their social media posts as they share their journey as dairy farmers abroad.

Razo in a wide shot with his Team Boy Gatas. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Razo also founded the organization ‘Boy Gatas Brotherhood’, a community for his former students and dairy farmers all over the Philippines.

“This will be the official organization that will bring the dairy industry to the Philippines,” Razo said. The organization currently has 800 members and is continuously growing. “We’re all working together so that ten years from now the dairy industry in the Philippines will prosper.”

Razo believes that people don’t know how important it is to include milk during their meals. One of the organization’s projects is to visit different barangays to educate the residents on the benefits of milk.

Dairy developments

Not only is Dairysquare Farm continuously making developments for the dairy industry, but it also plans to expand beyond milk production.

Since imported cows were expensive, Razo is working on breeding island-born dairy cows. These cows are born from his cows which had adapted to the Philippine climate, and will be significantly cheaper than the imported ones. This will hopefully encourage more people to venture into dairy farming. “It’s so that for future [dairy] farmers, at least they don’t experience the problems I’ve experienced,” he said. “It’s so that they don’t encounter a huge problem that would discourage them from dairy farming.”

He also plans to open more courses for the dairy school, and wants to develop Dairysquare Farm for agritourism. He plans to establish ‘Dairy in the City’, a site that offers steak-all-you-can, unlimited milk and ice cream, and also allows visitors to experience cow feeding, calves bottle feeding, and milking.

“I wish more people would get into dairy, and we also have a project where we make Region 12 to be the Milk Capital of the Philippines,” Razo said.

Razo is truly proud of the quality of milk his farm produces, and the quality of students who graduate from his farm. He acknowledges there’s a lot of risk going into dairy farming in the Philippines, so he advises people to not just see dairy farming as a business, it should also be fueled by passion. 

Bayliss Kurt Razo is General Santos’ Boy Gatas. (Bayliss Kurt Razo)

Razo said that students approach him with various questions, whether it be about dairy or in life. To them, he always answers, “Kay Boy Gatas, cow ang sagot sa tanong mo. (With Boy Gatas, cow/you are the answer to your problem.)”

There’s a lot of potential in dairy farming, and Razo is definitely one to advocate for it. 

Photos courtesy of Bayliss Kurt Razo (Boy Gatas)

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