Visiting Vietnam: My kind of day

Katelyn H., Michigan State University, Animal Science, '14

Today was my kind of day. We spent it visiting dairy farms and learning about dairy in Vietnam. The country cannot produce enough milk to meet its needs.

We started by visiting the dairy cooperative for the area. The cooperative consists of 800 farms that average three cattle each. Farmers bring their milk to the co-op drop off station twice per day--on foot, bike or moped. A little bit different than the semi-trucks we have in the United States!

Despite difference in cow numbers and milk delivery I was really surprised how similar it was to cooperatives in the United States. At the co-op they have a cooling station for them milk. The co-op has a contract with a local factory. They deliver the milk to the factory daily. The co-op also provides a bunch of services to the farmers. They have large semen holding tanks, sell antibiotics, sell concentrate feed pellets, and train milkers. I was impressed by how they pay the farmer. Similar to the United State, farmers get paid for the volume of milk and on the percent fat and total solids.

I enjoyed learning about the co-op the most. I did not know that Vietnam had dairy co-ops, let alone co-ops that are so similar to the ones in the United States.

We had the opportunity to visit two farms. Each had 15 to 20 animals. I was extremely surprised that the cattle were all Holstein-Friesen. I was not expecting a western breed. I was also surprised how many of their management tactics were similar to the United States, such as first calf at two years, a dry period of two months and use of artificial insemination. One of the farms we visited milked his cows by hand, whereas the other had one portable milker.

The cattle feed was extremely interesting. They were mostly fed local grasses. They also got corn and other local plants. My favorite, and the most unique, was the feeding of banana tree stalks. After cutting down the banana tree, the trunk was chopped up and fed to the cattle. It is a very fibrous feed but is only around 10 percent dry matter. The thing that I found the most interesting was how much the cattle liked it. They gobbled it up as soon as it was put in front of them.

Next time you pick up a glass of milk, remember the Vietnamese farmer who milks his cows by hand each and every day to make a living and provide milk for their country.

Katelyn and her classmates studied in Vietnam March 2 to 10, 2013 as a part of a Michigan State University class on emerging issues and sustainability in international agriculture.

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