Dairy Adventure in China #6

Welcome back. Yesterday we visited a farm near Tangshan. At the end of the day we want back to Tangshan and stayed there instead of Beijing, which allowed me to get a decent night’s sleep. I even fell back to sleep after waking a 4AM! The bad news is that even though the “small town” that Chao and Kai said we would be staying in actually has 7.5 million people, they do not have coffee. I had, for the first time a few free minutes after breakfast so I went for a bit of a walk. Considering that any US city of 7.5 million would have at least, say 5000 Starbuck’s, you would think I could find even a bad cup here. No luck. The other bad news is that Tangshan is an industrial area that Chao says is “responsible for the bad air in Beijing.” There are lots of these bad boys (see below), coal fired power plants, chemical plants, mines, both iron and coal, and who knows what else. The city, famous for a devastating earthquake in 1976, sits in a bowl surrounded by treeless mountains. I assume this terrain contributes to even worse air quality. The greenish color is not fake; that really is what it looks like here.

All the cars, houses, windows, and probably even cows have a brown layer or grime. One feels very sad about what our species has done to the planet at times like this. Chao said the government is transitioning to clean energy but the biggest roadblock is the potential loss of jobs associated with it. Before I came here I knew that the air in Beijing was bad, but did not appreciate that it persists for hundreds of miles into the countryside.

Sunrise over Tangshan fro 22 stories up. Note the dirty windows.

It took about 3 hours to get to Tangshan from Beijing. Here are a couple of pics from a rest stop along the way:

US Dairy Farmers: have hope; there is ice cream in China, if it catches on your milk price woes will be over.

Road side bathroom

Two funny things about picture. 1. As I said, a lot of things get lost in translation from Madarin to English. 2. There are no towels in there; not funny by itself unless you know that bathrooms, especially in some of the rural areas often have no towels or hand driers, not that they are just empty, they just are not there. Cotton pants work well.

Our farm was owned by a government owned company. They have farms with cows totaling over 80,000. They are a new client for Chao and Kai so I did not want to screw anything up. I assured Kai that I would try not to piss anybody off, but I had to explain what that meant, the the entirety of the joke was lost in translation.

Farm from the distance

Calf milk hauler
Holstein cows
Jerseys on the left Holsteins on the right

In case you are wondering Chinese Jersey cows roll their tongues too. (Non-cow people: ask a dairy farmer to explain) .

Heifer lot

The farm has two separate dairies on the same site, operated more or less separately: “Section 1” and “Section 2” . Overall I think there are 4000 – 6000 cows, but I am not sure. “How many cows do you have here?” seems to be a difficult question to answer in China. US farmers with answer either , ” 928″ , or “about 900” . Answers here on the same farm, might be “2000” or “4,000” or ” 6,000″ . In fact, on a different farm I noticed that there were way too many calves on milk for a farm of the reported number. They had 900 heifer calves on milk for 4000 cows. So, 330 calvings per month = 165 heifers, times two for two months of milk feeding = 330 calves. When I inquired everyone insisted this was correct with no other explanation. Since dairy cows seldom have triplet heifers, I persisted. Finally I was told, in soft voice, that there had been a fire some time ago and 1000 cows died. It was supposed to be a secret. Seems like a pretty big secret….. But even that does not explain the numbers, so there must be more secrets. Back to the farm of the day.

Section 2 milking parlor
Inside section 2 parlor

Second two’s parlor is a double 60. Looks like about 8 people in there, working at a pretty relaxed pace. The equipment is pretty much what one would see in the US. Iodine pre and post dip, using paper towels, etc. This farm’s cows were not as clean as other farms here, so we discussed and demonstrated proper teat cleaning, disinfection, and drying. It is not any easier to do this when the other person speaks Mandarin than when they speak Spanish.

section two

Section One parlor
Section One parlor

Note our stylish outfits…

Mandarin Calf Feeding Chart

Kai said that section one was the older part of the operation; it was built in 2012. I find that hard to believe, it looked much older than that. When I asked Kai how it was possible that the building could have deteriorated that fast he quipped, “Its the government.” I pointed out that while that might be true, this farm, owned by the government had nicer boots for us to wear than the others.

Hay from Utah

Village near the dairy

Notice the cylindrical structure on top: These were present on many of the houses here. They are filled with corn – on the cob. Chao says they burn it for heat. The nearby fields often have shocks of corn stalks. Chao suggested that it might be used to feed livestock.

We walked around and talked until dark and then headed back to Tangshan and enjoyed another spectactular Chinese dinner with some of the people from the farm company headquarters and from the farm. The large table had a glass cover than rotated when one pulled on it. There were 14 separate dishes on the platter; the waitress brought a few more later. Someone would gently pull on the platter and rotate it so that each of us could take something from each item as it went by. I found this a bit challenging with chopsticks but managed not to starve.

Wonderful Chinese meal
My place

See plate of meat right in front of me? Guess?……………………… Yup, donkey. We had an nice laugh. Did I? Of course! Not wanting to offend I promptly took a slice before the dish was rotated away. Did I like it? 1. It does not taste like chicken. 2. When we left the hotel in the morning I left my donkey meat purchase for the maids. Actually, it was not that bad, kind of like liver with sugar on top.

Road to the farm

In the morning we went back to the farm to conduct some training. The farm has a beautiful conference room, and there were people there from the farm along with the group from the head office of the company. Speaking with a translator to a group is a special challenge that requires patience. I think it went well though. The biggest problem the farm (both 1 and 2) has is mastitis. Group 2 cows are housed in dry lots and open building bedding with straw. There is need for more bedding, more frequently under the roofs. Group 1 has free stalls bedding with some combination of peanut hulls and other stuff, and outside lots that are not especially clean, but group 1’s cows were cleaner and had a lower incidence of mastitis than group 2’s. I pushed forward with the discussion of why this was and how it could be fixed. When making recommendations as an outside consultant it is very important to listen and try to understand. Most often one is not the smartest or most experienced person in the room, so the farmers usually already know the problem and what some solutions might be. The consultant has to figure out what the real barriers are to implementation and try to work on ways to remove those barriers instead of just telling people what to do. In this case, the obvious solution was to bed more frequently, with more bedding, but I knew there had to be more to it. So I kept probing, gently, asking questions, listing to the translation, listening to the answers, to the translation , and then restating the problem and potential solutions. After working this way for a while, the general manager said, “We know the problem.” ” But to use more bedding is expensive.” Fair enough, but mastitis is more expensive. Then he said,” one third of the cost of the bedding must come from the worker’s wages, so we cannot do it.” (Remember, it’s the government.) I asked if the workers got a milk quality bonus for good results. He said they did but the cost of bedding was may more expensive than the bonus. So there is the real barrier. I think we came up with some possible solutions to this problems and others. One funny moment was when we were discussing calf diarrhea caused by K99 E. coli. I told them I had not seen a case in 25 years (until today) because of the use of vaccines. There were a couple of side conversations going, so I offered a joke by saying that perhaps next time I could bring some and they could buy it on the black market. Laughter erupted; I didn’t know why becasue I didn’t think it was all that funny. Chao explained that right before I said that , someone had asked if I could perhaps smuggle vaccine in some next time I came to China. I was joking, but I don’t believe he was. Anyway, I think we all had a great time. We retired to the cafeteria for lunch. Apparently all Chinese dairies have a lunchroom for employees. I could see steel dishes kept in bins and lockers; each worker leaves there own tableware in the cafeteria.

Farm cafeteria

Today’s students. They are saying “CHEESE” . Always doing some marketing here…
corn stalk shocks

Now we are back on the road. Apparently things went well because they asked if we wouldn’t mind visiting another dairy on the way back to Beijing. It is only 3 hours away….. We we planning on an earlier return to the hotel tonight, oh well. Yesterday Chao and had a nice talk about Chinese people and their culture. He said that people were peaceful, and mostly interested in having a better life. Then he said, “…and they work hard.” I agree.

I will write more later, but I just wanted to mention that the traffic here is pretty bad overall. The expressways in Beijing are as bad or worse than in NY, LA, or Chicago. In Tangshan, this is compounded by all kinds of big trucks: coal trucks, iron trucks, and everything else. The concept of traffic lanes, and traffic lanes being restricted to one direction at a time, is a bit, well… fluid here. In addition the truck traffic has made sections of the highway really rough, to top it off the damaged roads add to the dust in the air. I think I took a couple of pictures will upload later. Not everyone is allowed to buy a car. Kai said there can be only one car per three people, but then that one person can have three cars, (which seems to make no sense (just roll with it, OK?) Chao said there is one drivers license per 1000 people. Drivers get 12 points every year from the government. Every traffic infraction results in the loss of points. For example, shoulder driving, which appears to be endemic on the expressways here, will result in, if apprehended or seen on camera by the government, loss of many points. Once your 12 points are used up you are SOL. The funny part is that drivers can buy points from other drivers to refill the pot. There are some rules regarding this too, which he tried to explain, but I just couldn’t get it. Also, the cars are bigger than I expected. Some are very small but most are larger, and there are a lot of moderate sized SUVs. No F150s or Suburbans though. Kai says, “Every Chinese man wants to drive a big car…. a big AMERICAN car.” Thanks for reading. I will answer any questions you have. Feel free to share or comment.

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