Back in China #4

At breakfast this morning Kai informed me that the manager of one of the farms we were to visit today called and said something had happened that precluded our visit. I suppose workers in China forget to close the gate once in a while too… As a result we would only visit one farm, and would stay in the same hotel tonight (Yea, another great breakfast tomorrow!) The farm we went to today is one that I visited last time I was here. They are apparently a very important client; thus the reason for another visit. One sees field after field of wheat across the country. Hao (formerly known as “Hau” or “Hua” by me) told me that the wheat is almost all harvested by hand. There are people who make a business out of traveling from the north to the south following the harvest, who provide a custom harvesting service. The wheat is cut and put into bundles and then taken to a machine that separates the grain from the straw, much like was done in the US 80 years ago. The customer harvesters work for food, lodging and a small wage. The farmers sometimes house them in barns with the horses, according to Hao. It is interesting that the lion’s share of arable land here is used to grow food for people, unlike in the US where much of the land is for livestock feed – which in the end results in human food too, but China just does not have enough land to do it this way. I took a picture of some fields, but it is hard to do because the Chinese government has planted miles and miles of trees along the major highways to balance out fossil fuel consumption. I also saw a lot of these mounds in the fields.

Farmers working in the fields

Last week there was a festival, which loosely translated is called “Grave Sweeping Day”. Hao and I decided Memorial Day might be a better translation. The mounds are graves. Small mounds might just be for ashes, while a large one might be a full casket. Kai told me last time that the government no longer allows burial of bodies due to the land required, but apparently this is not entirely the case out in the villages. This may or not be the official line, but things are, as you know, not always what they seem in China. The graves are decorated with bright colored ribbons and flags for the festival. They are everywhere, and I am amazed I did not notice them before. People like to bury their loved ones near or in their fields so that they can be near to them when working, and so no one has to leave their home, even after death. In fact, as we left the dairy we say this:

Chinese traditional funeral

This is a traditional Chinese funeral. There was music, and a truck with a fairly ornate casket. Quiet a few of the mourners were riding in and on the ubiquitous cycle/truck/cart contraptions one sees everywhere. It looked like they were heading out to a field for the burial. After the funeral they go back to the village for a meal and some sort of entertainment. Perhaps they have some actors, thought Hao.

Rapeseed, or Canola as known in North America

The yellow flowers are rapeseed, which is grown for its oil and its meal. The meal is similar in content to soybean meal, and canola oil is of course, used in cooking.

There is a military base near this farm. On the way there some soldiers were apparently conduction some war games or training. We drove through groups of them along the road. There were a few pops that went off as we went by. Hao speculated that they were probably using blanks. Kai told me last time that this farm was built on military land. There was a funny moment today when we saw a bunch of fellows working on the farm installing equipment who were wearing what looked like army uniforms. In fact it said ” A Z army” in English on the uniforms. Everyone cracked up when I asked if they were soldiers. Near as I could figure, the farmer had provided these as uniforms for the maintenance workers as some kind of joke. They really thought it funny when I asked then where their guns were.

Me, all gowned up for the farm

This is a new facility that is not yet entirely full of cows. Some of the pens that will have milking cows are now filled with heifers. Last time I was here I pointed out that I thought the cow cooling systems were inadequate because they did not have enough fans over the free stalls. There was only one row over the head to head stalls, and the fans were too far apart. I was very surprised to see a crew installing more fans today, and even more surprised to hear that they were doing it because I said so. Looking around, my wild guess is that this required another 500 fans. So my two minute remark resulted spending a half a million dollars or so on more fans. I hope the fan dealer is appreciative. It looks good now.

Lots of fans now

This farm complained about lameness last time, and I had a hard time sorting if this was “foot rot” or “digital dermatitis” (DD). In fact nobody could tell me if they even had digital dermatitis in China. This is an infectious and contagious disease sometimes called “hairy warts” because of the large, red, hairy wart-like protuberences that develop between the claws. This time I could indeed see that these are hairy warts:

The feet are green because of treatment with copper sulfate. If you look carefully you can see the warts between the claws on the back.

The feet and lower legs of most of the cows were relatively dirty. I asked the manage why this was. He indicated that it was due to the manure scraper pulling a pile of manure down the alley that the cows would have to walk through. This happens because the pens are way to long for the run of the scraper. There should be another drop midway between the ends for manure to fall into. We confirmed that this was the case when a loaded scraper went by. I find it remarkable that when building a brand new, $20,000,000.00 or so dairy, nobody thought of this. It is pretty hard to fix now. Compounding the problem was that they had heifers in some pens too that would later be filled with cows, and the manure scrapers were causing the same problems there. We know that this disease usually spreads in heifer groups and that if one does not control it there, no amount of treatment using foot baths, of adult cows will fix the problem, so this was really a digital dermatitis perfect storm. I also learned that the milk from this dairy is used for infant formula, and that the government has very strict standards for this as a result of the terrible scandal back in 2008. One of the standards is that no tetracycline be used, even in young, non-lactating animals, which unfortunately is the antibiotic treatment of choice for DD. So it goes.

The scraper with a tsunami of manure

They were also running way too many cow through the copper sulfate or formalin foot baths and the foot baths were too small and too short, so the treatments were inadequate. All in all it was pretty easy to see why they were having too much DD.

We also spent some time with the hoof trimming crew. The farm used their own employees and from what I could see they pretty much just used a grinder to flatten all four hooves, and chopped off the toes leaving a blunt end in front. Dairy folks will know this is not at all the way it is to be done. The front of the claw needs to be three inches long, and once the toe is shortened one is to remove the excess sole near the toe. Furthermore one normally does not like to remove much sole from the heel of the inside claw on the rear to keep the weight on the inside claw if possible.

The manager also said they were having too much mastitis in some groups and that E. coli was the predominant organism isolated from bulk tank milk. Cows here were bedded with recycled manure solids (from the methane digester) and he wondered if the solids were too wet. I didn’t think there was much anyone could do about that, so I suggested we look at the milking routine. The farm has a 80 cow rotary parlor which is a giant carosel on which the cows ride for the duration of their milking. A cow moves by a worker once every seven seconds so each worker has than much time to complete whatever task they have to do. There was one person applying predip to the teats right after the cows entered, one person stripping milk from the teats to check for mastitis and stimulate the udder, one person right next door drying teats with a paper towel, one person attaching units about 8 slots later, one person dipping teats after the units came off at the end, and one or two people floating around doing various tasks. There was also one person kind of directing traffic where the cows stepped on and backed off the rotor. So all tolled that is 7 or 8 people. Most people in the US would probably run this parlor with 4, maybe 5 workers. Nevertheless, one cow every seven seconds means over 500 cows milked per hour, assuming nobody slows or stops the rotor, which is a lot.

Cow Merry Go Round
Backing off the rotor

It was a very nice parlor, as you can see. The technicians were doing pretty well, except that they were not properly cleaning and drying the teat ends, which I demonstrated to the manager with a clean white towel that I used to rub the teat ends after they were cleaned and dried. This is a common problem in many parlors, probably mostly because drying teat ends properly is not easy and may cause fatigue in the thumb and fingers.

Since it was passed lunch time we headed back to the farm cafeteria for a tasty meal:


Speaking of food, I learned today that the unknown stuff I ate this morning was: 1. Chinese yam- the tubular thing that had potato skin, 2. Chestnut, 3. Taro – the big round thing, apparently of the same family as Chinese Yam, and 4. Sweet potato.

More later..

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