Originally published on June 23, 2015.
Dairy production is an integration of many factors, and each component has challenges that can limit yields and hinder a farmer’s economic return. In Bangladesh, key among these challenges is the need for improved farming practices across the production cycle, and enhanced animal health and nutrition. With the goal of increasing productivity and trade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project (BDEP), implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, is addressing these challenges through innovation and a whole farm management approach. Beyond whole farm management, BDEP is partnering with dairy processors to build milk chilling infrastructure in order to improve the formal domestic milk trade and competitiveness along the dairy value chain.
The dairy cycle starts with fodder production, the source of nutrition for cows. In Bangladesh, poor soil quality correlates directly with inadequate crop yields. In addition, the almost total lack of understanding of the nutritional needs of dairy animals, both among farmers and support staff, means that dairy cattle have highly insufficient sources of nourishment, which has a direct and detrimental impact on animal welfare, milk production, fertility and, notably, profitability.
BDEP's fodder trials are evidence of the poor soil condition. Local seed was planted in both plots, and the germination and growth rates were much improved with a soil treatment (on left).
To assess the gaps and better understand the limitations restricting successful fodder crop production, BDEP conducted soil testing on participating farms. The program’s Chief of Party, Geoff Walker, notes the results, “Organic matter is not present in much of the country’s soil, which is caused by traditional farming practices that do not plough back any plant residues into the soil. Results also showed that the pH is too low for satisfactory fodder crop growth.” To mitigate these issues, the BDEP team has adjusted the pH level in soil, and demonstrated to farmers how to compost organic matter from crop residues, kitchen waste and cow dung. Combined with soil treatment, better crop selection and improved seed, BDEP fodder crop trials are demonstrating significantly more productive crop growth.
Before transitioning to a fodder diet, farmers in Bangladesh often allow the calf to suckle for up to one year. This can cause significant economic losses for two reasons: First, milk suckled by the calf cannot be sold or utilized in the home. Second, if not combined with other sources of nutrition, extended suckling impacts a cow’s productivity her entire life, from delaying her ability to reach maturity to low potential for milk production. For example, poor calf nutrition delays a calf’s first heat, which generally occurs at two years of age or later for local breeds. In response, BDEP has demonstrated a successful weaning strategy that enables rumen development much earlier. And, the program is introducing a calf milk replacer to farmers participating in the program.
Adhering to the whole farm management approach, Mrs. Sobiron Begum has enjoyed a boost in income as her cow produces 383 percent more milk.
Walker is encouraged by the results. “With better nutrition being provided to the pregnant mother, calves’ birth weights have increased by 25 percent and overall animal health has improved, which leads to accelerated maturity.” Better nutrition is also helping to promote improved animal fertility. Dairy cows in Bangladesh often experience dry periods of up to one year or longer, whereas cows cared for under BDEP’s farm management approach are achieving dry periods in line with the international norm of just 50-60 days.
Participating cows are also de-wormed regularly and vaccinated against foot and mouth disease and, depending on the region, anthrax. Better-quality animal care has resulted in healthier cows and has reduced overall healthcare costs. “These farm management innovations are significantly contributing to improved milk profitability across BDEP farms,” states Walker. “We have recorded gains of 600 percent in milk production for local cows, from 1.5 liters per day to 9.3, and for cross-breeds a 100 percent increase from 8 to 16 liters per day.” BDEP is providing more feed, more water and better standards of health care for calves, in order to achieve the gains for our farmers.
Along with providing much enhanced nutrition, BDEP’s whole farm management approach boosts animal welfare through the provision of much greater volumes of clean water, well beyond what is normally offered to cows in Bangladesh. “Temperatures in Bangladesh often reach extremely high temperatures (104+ °F), so our farmers are bathing their cows at least twice a day. Not only do the cows love this, but they produce more milk. Where possible, we also offer advice on improved ground conditions to boost cow comfort, again with an impact on milk production,” Walker explained.
We have reported gains of 600% in milk production for local cows, and for cross-breeds, a 100% increase.
In addition to implementing genuine productivity and profitability enhancement measures, BDEP is focused on sustainability. As noted above, in order to achieve this, BDEP is engaging and assisting dairy companies from the private sector to establish advisory services staffed with officers trained in whole farm management.
BDEP staff believe that one cannot take smallholders to the formal market (as represented by processor owned milk chilling centers); rather, the market must come to the smallholder. Our processor partners, therefore, are establishing village level milk chilling centers so that farmers are able to deliver their milk directly to the chilling station.
Walker is confident the progress made on the farms and across the market will continue, as productivity increases and relationships strengthen. He explained, “Partnering dairy companies are also co-investing more than U.S. $4 million of their own funds to establish formal market linkages with 10,000 BDEP-trained farmers. Sustainability and profitability derives from integration of farmers with the formal value chain, and through the provision of genuinely effective advice on whole farm management. These partnerships will serve as a foundation for continued success, even after BDEP wraps up implementation.”