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Back in China #1

I am back in China; its spring here now. The leaves are just coming out on the trees and one sees green fields of winter wheat in the countryside.


Today we traveled about 60 miles east of Beijing to a 3500 cow dairy that belongs to Fonterra. Fonterra is a large New Zealand based coop that exports a lot of milk products around the world. According to my sources Fonterra has around 90,000 – 100,000 cows in China. Apparently Fonterra started building dairies in China because the Chinese government required that they do so to help the dairy business grow here. Fonterra wanted to export New Zealand dairy products to China. Fonterra is a very large processor of milk, but ironically does not have any processing facilities in China. The dairy I saw was built in 2010. The construction is pretty typical for that time with four row pens and open sidewalls. I am surprised at how much rust one sees on the roofs and ends of many of the relatively new facilities here. I wonder if it has something to do with the polluted air. All in all it was a very nice facility.

Free Stall barn

We met in the conference room before walking around the dairy. The managers had few complaints and thought the herd was doing relatively well. Production was 33 kg of 3.84% butterfat and 3.24% protein milk per cow per day, which was right around their goals. They did complain about difficulty in maintaining butterfat production in the summer heat however. I pointed out that our Minnesota Holsteins will average about 0.30 points lower butterfat (so 3.6% versus 3.9% for example) just due to the change in daylight between December and July, so that perhaps they were expecting too much. This group of managers appeared to be in there 20s and 30s, with the exception being the regional manager for Fonterra who might have been in his mid 40s. They were all Chinese. No one spoke English, but they were cheerful sorts and we managed to get along pretty well. One significant recent problem was a deficiency in getting hooves trimmed in a timely manner. This is due to a policy change from the company to have farm staff do the trimming instead of an outside company, and compounded by recent difficulties in keeping enough employees. I was shown a very nice, US built, hoof trimming chute, but apparently there isn’t anyone to operate the thing.

They mentioned some problems with calf pneumonia in very young calves. Calves are housed in hutches from the time they are dried off after birth until after weaning, and the hutches are nice a clean, so I found this a little surprising. They also complained about difficulty in curing clinical pneumonia cases in calves. After weaning calves were put in groups of two in these super-hutches.

Weaned Calves

I thought these girls were pretty big to be just weaned; the ear tag on this one showed she was over 3 and 1/2 months old. When I asked about that the manager said they were short on space for older calves.

Newborn calves were kept in elevated, bedded crates in an open sided barn for a day after birth. It seemed like this barn was at least twice the size it needed to be for that purpose. It had Wisconsin-style, solid ventilation tubes near the ceiling.

The cows were relatively clean and the beds well-maintained with sand. They had the big what I will call VES-style fans by the ceilings of all the barns with a row of conventional fans along the feed alleys.


Speaking of fans, can you see anything wrong in this picture? I will answer the question later or in my next post.

The maternity area was clean and spacious. They apparently had read or heard about the concept of giving cows some privacy at calving because they had installed solid barriers on the walls of the pens like this:


They also had a version with solid walls on two sides and open walls on two sides. The manager thought that cows were more content in this version than the ones that were solid on four sides, about which I am not surprised considering that cows are herd animals.

The farm was just receiving a load of US hay:

US Hay

I was told that the price of US hay increased significantly due to the trade war. Some farmers have bought hay from Spain instead. Most of the corn silage is grown nearby, but not by the dairy farmer. The dairy farmer may be the one that does the harvest, but usually the crop is on someone else’s land.

Eventually we made our way to the parlor. I was told that mastitis was not a major problem here, with a monthly case rate of 3-4%. I never know what to make of mastitis case rates, since they vary based on how one calculates them. What seems to be the norm here is just to tally the total number of cases, even if they are repeats, and divide by the number of cows milking. Using that method, 3-4% probably isn’t too bad. The parlor was a double 50 parallel. I am not used to being in parlors this large.

Double 50 parlor

One thing you dairy farmers will notice is that there are no hose supports in here, and that many of the claws are sort of pulled back over the curb by the weigh of the hoses. Unsurprisingly there is a lot of air noise in this parlor from the poorly positioned liners on the teats. There were also a lot of three-quartered cows and cows with very uneven quarters. When questioned, the managers did not seem to know if they had Mycoplasma mastitis here, but based on the number of blank quarters I suspect that they do. Of course it is possible that some of the unevenness of the udders was just due to chronic, poor milk out, or even udder conformation, but I doubt it. This might explain some of the baby calf pneumonia problems as well. All in all though, the cows and udders were pretty clean and the parlor routine resulting in clean teats prior to unit attachment.


Like every other dairy in China this one had a variety of biosecurity/disenfecting systems. One thing I had never seen before was this aggressive boot-washer:

Boot washer

It required a minimum of leg-brain-eye coordination that I did not seem to have, but I managed not to completely fall on my face on the way out. After getting back into our street clothes we were led to the farm cafeteria where we enjoyed a nice lunch of chicken with vegetables and peanuts. The peanuts really challenged my chopstick skills, but I managed. At least I don’t look around for something to drink anymore, and just grab my bowl of soup and drink out of it like everyone else though. Even old dogs can learn a few things.

Now its back to Beijing for a trip on the bullet train to Shijiazhuang. Last time in Shijiazhuang we stayed at a hotel with a remarkable breakfast buffet. Here’s hoping we stay there again.

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