Dairy and Food Adventures in China #8

Today’s farm was a top performer within a group of farms owned by one firm. The facilities were old, but the farm manager made things work. She was well-respected and had won awards for her work.

Farm entrance

Shortly after meeting her I got the strong impression that she was pretty skeptical about me and what I had to say. Even when we humans cannot understand each other we still can, just with different language. And the message was pretty loud and clear. As we walked around the dairy and talked she was mostly standoffish, but I could see she was listening.

The farm

The biggest challenge for the farm was mastitis. Streptococcus agalactia and Mycoplasma bovis are common mastitis pathogens in China, as was the case here. We discussed methods of control, prevention and treatment.

Girls enjoying Chinese Breakfast

This farm utilized a combination of free stalls, bedded pack and dry lots for most of the groups. We discussed challenges with this practice. She was seeming to become more interested.

Just-calved Cows

Eventually we made our way into the milking parlor, a double 24 parallel design. There were a variety of problems. When I pointed them out the parlor manager became very vocal, as did a couple of the milking technicians. It was pretty clear they were very interested and committed to doing things right. When I suggested they stop dipping their gloved hands into the bucket of water and disinfectant right before they stripped teats and just dip the teats with predip instead, there was all kinds of chatter between everybody and then the parlor manager took the bucket and threw it out. When I showed them that all of the milk hoses were twisted 180 degrees because they were too long, there was again all kinds of bantering for a while, then they immediately started untwisting them. When I showed them a better way to dry teat ends , since the cows’ were dirty, they immediately implemented the new technique. We did this kind of thing for a while.

As the day progressed the manager became more and more engaged , and even began smiling. She asked more questions too. It was time to eat, so we retired to the cafeteria for lunch. About a third of the way through the delicious meal, which I was consuming with what I thought was a fairly efficient and successful method for chopsticks, I caught a brief signal from the manager to the kitchen out of the corner of my eye. Shortly a woman came out and quietly placed a spoon on the edge of my tray. Apparently there was concern that I was struggling.

We then went back to the office and talked for another hour. Now she was very complimentary and very thankful, almost to the point of my embarrassment. I tried to respond in kind as best I could. When we left she was all smiles. It was a remarkable transformation from when we arrived. I am convinced that this farm will continue to be successful because the manger really cares about the success of the farm, and has a great understanding of what really matters. These kind of days really make it worth doing.

Nearby I saw this:


I estimate there were 40 acres of greenhouses here. I have seen hundreds of them in a few days. That’s how you grow vegetables for a couple billion people. What this trip is really about is food. Food for a nation that has struggled with food security for generations, but has made tremendous strides in securing its sources in recent years. In the United States and much of the rest of the western world we take food for granted. Food is in the US is cheaper and safer than anytime in human history. But growing food has a significant environmental footprint, and its critical we minimize that print as much as possible. Heating our buildings and driving our cars may be necessary, but to be sustainable we must do it efficiently. Raising food is no different. Of course efficiency in animal agriculture needs to come without violating the unspoken contract we make to treat our stock humanely and with respect. Sometimes that is challenging, but there is always a solution.

Well, now we have a long car ride toward Tianjin, a city to the south of Beijing. It is one of the four great Chinese cities that are under direct administration by the government. Not exactly sure what means. Fifteen million people live there. We will turn south to Dezhou, another “small town” with merely 5 million people. Just can’t get my head around the population of this country.

I will end today with this. It is from a rest stop along the way. I found it directly in front of me while I was standing at the urinal. If you don’t understand take note of the stance of the little figure in orange. We can all do better with a little encouragement….

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