I think this is a more appropriate title, because this truly is an adventure in so many ways: the food, the travel, the rules, the culture. The dairy yesterday was a beautiful new facility. But things are different here. For example, to purchase a train ticket or to check into a hotel, I need my passport. I give it to the person who then scans it into something and seems to spend a lot of time looking at a screen and typing. As Kai, says, “It’s the government.” Makes me think: WE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Kind of spooky, but everyone here is friendly and nice so you just have to roll with it. Like everywhere there are things that seem to make little sense.
For example, my hotel hallway in Beijing above. Somehow this does not inspire confidence in the safety of the place at first glance. In the room I found two of these:
I am just an old cow doctor, but in my head I get this image of a fire in the hotel and every guest putting one of these babies on, then rushing out into the hallway to grab their own personal fire extinguisher, all during a fire, with lots of smoke, etc; you get the idea, and I just can’t see how that is a great safety plan. I asked Kai about it and he said ” It’s the government. Probably there was a big fire somewhere and many people died so the government passed a law.”
Like I said, just roll with it.
China is a county of contrasts. For example one sees a couple of people riding on one seat of a small motorcycle with a platform on the back loaded with cases of various items six feet high. Then one sees this:
These guys really fly, and even at nearly 200 mph the ride is smooth as glass. The only thing a bit shocking is meeting a train going the other direction, because one’s eyes have trouble with the flash of the other train so close.
Kai says the newest train, from Beijing to Shanghi is even faster. A ticket to travel from Shijiazhuang to Beijing, which 200 or 300 miles is 18 bucks. First class is 36 bucks, for which you get a wider seat, nuts and water. Unbelievable. By the way Shijiazhaung is a “moderately sized” city here, which means about 4 million in the city and 10 million in the metro area. This is moderate because Beijing is over 20 million. Shijiazhaung is the capital of Hebai province, which I am told has a lot of dairy farms and dairy cows, somewhere around 3 million. Apparently the government does not allow dairy farms too close to large metros like Beijing for environmental protection reasons. I must say that the two farms I have seen so far seem to do a nice job of controlling waste and runoff though. Both have methane digesters to make gas from manure and both use the recycled manure for bedding.
Notice the McDonalds and KFC in the train station. There were two of each there. I had some time to kill so I walked around the place and visited a few shops. In one, a sales person opened up a shopping bag, and smiling, followed me around. I am pretty sure the bag was for my purchases.
I really was not planning on buying, but in the interest of acting neighborly, I though perhaps I should. She seemed to think I wanted this bag of something that had a smiling donkey on the label. I looked at it, and near as I could figure, it was candy. For 28 yuan, about 5 bucks, I thought it worth it, even though I don’t eat all that much candy. I figured I could give some to Kai when I went back to where he was waiting for the train. When I found him I showed him my purchase. I said it looked like candy but I was’t sure. He smiled and said, “Do you know what kind of animal that is?” “Of course, I am a veterinarian you know; that is a donkey” I said. “This is donkey meat,” he said. “I don’t think people in your country eat that.” So now I have this bag of donkey meat in my suitcase. I will try it before I leave, but since my hosts keep feeding me great foods I am never hungry. Might have to wait until the airport…
I did recognize a package of milk because it was from the processor that purchased the milk from those two farms though.
You might recall I said that there are no cattle vaccines in China. Well, that is not exactly true. Another one of my hosts, Chao, tells me that vaccines are smuggled into the country and also that there are “local companies” that produce vaccines. I don’t believe any of this is legal. Being a vet, I had to poke around in one of the medicine storage areas. I saw this:
I was told it was a plant based drench for dairy cows to help their rumenation. I thought it was a cute package and would have loved to bring one home to try, but thought it better not to ask.
The feedstuffs on the dairies are something to see. I wish I had some pics to share.
Here is a feed tag for hay imported from Pocatello, Idaho. It is guaranteed to be at least 18-20% crude protein, 88% dry matter, and NDF less that 36-40%. It actually looked much better than that. The wheat hay is from New Zealand. It comes in odd looking large bales and appears to be something between green wheat hay and wheat straw. It seems to mostly fed to young stock, but I did see some offered to adult cows in a post fresh pen. The last farm had a state of the art feed center, with three stationary mixers, what looked like a mineral mixer, a mill, and at least three feed trucks. All was tidy and clean. The commodity bays had several concentrate mixes and cottonseed. I didn’t ask if it was US cottonseed.
Last night we went to dinner at a great local restaurant in Beijing.
In this picture you see what was the last dish in a string of great eats. The brown thing is a fish head, and the lighter colored stuff are Chinese pancakes. Kai said it was a famous meal in China. I asked him what it was called and he said, “Fish head and pancakes.” I think something was lost in translation. Prior to this we had chicken, shrimp, lamb soup, and a nice green that looked a lot like spinach, but wasn’t. It seems many of the soups here are more for drinking than eating; they are mostly a weak broth with things floating about. Of course, there is hot water and Chinese beer to drink. Our waiter brought a pitcher of a yellow substance to our table. It was fairly hot, like coffee that had cooled for a bit. Chao filled my glass, and when I asked what it was he said, “corn.” It was the right color, but sure did not look like any corn I had seen. I tried it and yes, indeed it was corn. Seemed to be like a hot corn smoothie. The ingredients: corn, hot water. It was really quite tasty.
We talked about food and agriculture in China. China is beginning to experience somewhat of a crisis due to the US/China trade war: African Swine Fever. Hardly anyone back home cares about this, but it is a big deal here. According to Chao, when the tariffs started the Chinese turned to the Russians to import pork. They did not know there was African Swine Fever in Russia. This brought the disease to the country. It is estimated that up to 80 to 90% of Chinese swine will die or be euthanized because of this. Apparently China produces nearly 600 million pigs annually, That’s a couple of pigs for each of us in the US each year, or a whole lot of bacon. Pork is apparently the cheapest meat in China, so many rely on it for food. Pork is now becoming more expensive, and will likely be much more so in the future as the outbreak gets rolling. Apparently the worst is yet to come.
Regarding dairy, the Chinese look to the US for advice. Our intensive systems better fit their needs than the grass based systems in New Zealand (They have very little grass here), or the smaller European systems. That’s why their farms look like something in Wisconsin or Idaho, and in case you are wondering, that is why I am here. I was recruited by a large multinational pharmaceutical company to help solve problems on Chinese farms and to help train Chinese veterinarians. So far I have done entirely the former and none of the latter. It seems the veterinary profession is different here. Most dairy veterinarians work directly for the farm, and there seem to be a lot of them. Also the education requirements seem to be a bit fluid; Kai said he could get a license to “treat cows” even though he has no veterinary degree. I think “veterinarian” here may be more of a job than a profession.
This might be a good time to mention that while I am not trying to intentionally mislead anyone, it is possible that some of what I am saying throughout this blog is just not true. As I said, things get lost in translation, so sometimes what I hear is not what was said. So don’t get your undies in a bunch if you know some of my facts are “alternative facts” or just plain lies. I can’t help it. Plus there is the thing that things in China are not always as they seem. Just roll with it.
We are in the car on a way to another dairy. 5000 cows, mostly Holstein, some Jerseys. We will have an entourage of 8 people total I am told because a number of younger people from the company that owns the farm want to tag along to learn something from the American expert. I told them this puts way to much pressure on me.
A couple of interesting tidbits about the farm visits. First, so far when arriving and before going out to the barns we walk through a room with a bunch of tubes near the ceiling that emit and odorless and colorless gas. A bit unnerving, but since I have have sired all the kids I intend to, I am not really worried. It is supposed to kill pathogens, but I am skeptical. Second, we have to dress in protective clothing. This is common in the US swine industry, but not dairy. On one farm this meant white paper coveralls, white boots, latex gloves, a hat cover/hair net, and a surgical mask. The other farm was the same except that we wore white lab coats instead of coveralls. I asked if the mask was to protect the cows or the humans and was told it was for humans. Seems a bit odd since there are not too many things you can get from a cow, and a surgical mask won’t protect you from the things you can, but like I said sometimes you just have to roll.
Our farm today is owned by a government company, and is an “older farm”, seven or eight years, which is old because like I said, the Chinese dairy industry is really very young.
By the way, for you struggling dairy farmers back home, I have been gently pushing everyone here to eat some cheese or ice cream. They don’t eat much of either, nor butter, so small steps in a country of 300 million could mean a veritable bonanza for US dairy exports. Not sure I am having an impact though.
One last thought for today: Of course breakfast was great again even though this hotel is at least a star to two below the last one. My only food frustration is the lack of coffee, which is a problem because my body seems to think it needs to wake at 3 AM. Today was an improvement as I made it to 4, but I sure could have used a cup of java and all I could find in the room was tea. I was thrilled to find a coffee machine at breakfast though. The problem was I could’t figure how to make the dang thing work. All I could get was hot water, even though I could see and smell the coffee beans calling me… Chao tried to help, but couldn’t so he rounded up some of the hotel staff to help. They messed around for quite a while saying stuff in Mandarin that of course I did not understand. After a while things got quiet so I thought my coffee was ready. I went over and looked into the cup beneath the spout: hot water. Coffee is just not a thing here.
Yeah, that’s hot water in the cup.
OK we made it to the farm, but it is a strong tradition here to have lunch and then a one hour nap. On this farm the morning shift ends at 11. Lunch follows, then the nap. We arrived at the dairy just before 11. So now we wait until 2 pm until we actually do anything. Bad plan. Probably means we will be here late today and then following the three hour drive back to Beijing I will drag my tired butt right to bed, again, so I can wake up refreshed at 4 AM. Oh well; just roll with it.
Ok, just one more last, last thing. I saw this in a restaurant and asked one of our group what this bird was called, since it looked a bit like a pheasant. A conversation ensued from which I could only understand the word “chicken”. Finally someone looked up the translation from Mandarin to English on Google, or perhaps Baidu (Chinese Google like company) and found this : “Photo Chicken”. Once again, I’m skeptical.