It’s early morning in the Indonesian port city of Semarang. Renae Flett is on a highway teeming with trucks, cars and scooters. The hum of engines and constant sound of horns tooting is a world away from the Manawatū dairy farm she calls home.
Renae’s in Indonesia to learn more about the country’s dairy industry, which is set for “exponential growth” due to a booming middle class. The 32-year-old’s vehicle weaves through traffic before reaching several small barns nestled behind a cluster of temples and houses.
As the Marton Young Farmers alumni member opens the door of the air-conditioned car, the stifling heat hits her. Indonesia is on the equator. It’s already 27 degrees at 8am.
“Indonesia’s dairy industry is very different to what we’re used to in New Zealand,” she said.
“There are lots of tiny farms and they’re all hidden from view.” The average dairy farm has between one and five Friesian cows, which are kept in barns all year.
“Most of the barns don’t have any walls, which allows air to circulate freely,” said Renae.
“The temperature inside is quite cool compared to the intense heat outside.”
“The animals are happy and comfortable. They have rubber mats to stand on and can lie down whenever they like,” she said.
Cows are tethered through their noses with a rope and halter, it’s a practice that has been done for generations.
“However, there is a push to get farmers to use regular halters, which don’t require the animal’s nose to be pierced,” she said.
Lactating cows are milked twice a day by hand. Some farmers are starting to use portable petrol-powered milking machines.
The milk is collected daily and taken to a small processing plant, where it’s sold locally.
“The milk is stored in metal pails before it’s picked up and there is no refrigeration,” she said.
“Farmers get paid weekly and there is only one processor they can supply.”
Dairy cows are worth 4-6 million Indonesian rupiah, which equates to $400-$600.
“The Indonesians believe cows are worth more if they have horns and no ear tags,” said Renae.
“Heads are the most valuable part of the cow.”
“Recording of artificial inseminations is still new for farmers. Up until now it was a ‘surprise’ if they got a Friesian or a Hereford calf. Inbreeding is an issue with the lack of recording,” she said.
Farmers often sleep in their cattle barns at night to stop their cows from being stolen, which “is a major problem”.
Renae was fascinated with what the cows eat. In New Zealand the majority of dairy cows live outside and have a grass-based diet.
Maize silage or other mixed rations are grown, harvested, stored and fed to cows using expensive tractors and machinery.
Indonesian dairy cows eat what’s called elephant grass.
“The plant grows about 1.8 metres tall and is very stalky,” said Renae.
Most farmers do not have any land outside the barns where their animals are housed, meaning feed has to be brought in.
“Fifty-kilogram bundles of elephant grass are cut and carried to livestock twice a day. This is done either on foot or by two-wheeler motorbike,” she said.
“Farmers can travel up to 40 kilometres a day to get feed for their cows. The number of bundles they have to transport depends on how many cows they have.”
Previously the long grass was fed straight to cows.
“But they have started chopping it up into smaller more palatable pieces. That practice has just been introduced,” she said.
“Most cows now have access to ad-lib drinking water. Before it was only offered to them twice a day.”
Renae’s four-day visit was organised by New Zealander Greg Maughan, who she knew through her involvement with the NZ Dairy Industry Awards.
Greg is now in Indonesia delivering an aid package to smallholder dairy farmers on behalf of the NZ Government.
“Greg’s been in Indonesia for a year. He’s teaching farmers new ideas and information to help lift production and profits, and improve the welfare of animals while still keeping a low-cost system,” said Renae.
The project runs focus farms in four different areas around Semarang and involves about 11 farmers.
“A few of those farms are also adding soy bean waste, maize, concentrates and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and copper into cows’ diets,” she said.
Indonesian dairy cows produce between 11-16 litres of milk a day. Cows being fed the finer chopped elephant grass eat more and have higher production.
As part of the aid package, Indonesians have been learning how to make grass silage and maize silage.
“The supplementary feed is being stored in 200 litre blue drums and large plastic bags,” said Renae.
“So far the bags have worked out to be the cheapest option in the trial, but the drums have been easier to seal.”
“Some farmers are also using small wooden handmade bunkers,” she said.
In Indonesia the maize is planted and harvested by hand. There are no large tractors or contracting equipment.
Theft of livestock isn’t the only challenge facing Indonesia’s growing dairy sector.
“One of the biggest challenges is that young people don’t want to take over the farms. The shortage of young farmers entering the industry is a major concern. They find office jobs more appealing,” she said.
The trip has made Renae appreciate the new technology, milking machines and big open paddocks New Zealand has.
The Fieldays Rural Catch finalist is in her third season contract milking 180 predominately Ayrshire cows on 70 hectares at Rongotea in the Manawatū.
“Farming on my own provides a lot of benefits. I’m challenged daily and I’ve learned to define my skills,” she said.
She’s been involved with NZ Young Farmers for five years and would recommend it to others.
“It’s great to be in a club with like-minded people where you can learn new skills and help future young farmers.”
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