Israeli to Thai cattle farmers: Cool down your cows

A group of Israeli agriculture experts travel around Thailand under the guidance of the Royal Thai Embassy in Israel.

Thai agriculture 370 (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Thai agriculture 370
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Sitting under a pergola dissipating the blazing September sun of northern Thailand, beef cow farmer Punya Prachachit says he can’t believe he was making so many simple mistakes for so many years.
Prachachit, 65, from Mung Saleonnatcoon Province, laments that in the past 10 years in the beef cultivating business, he has been using many incorrect techniques to raise and maintain his cows. Sure, becoming a farmer was only a retirement job for the former government officer, but Prachachit so took to raising beef cows that he became president of one of the largest meat cooperatives in Thailand and thereby a key figure in national decisions on meat.
“It would be a big honor for me if I can help you,” cattle expert Shimon Carmi told him last month.
Carmi, head of S.H. Design Engineering Ltd. and a legend in the Israeli cattle industry – he was one of the founders of the dairy herd management company AfiMilk, where he worked until 1993 – was part of a group of Israeli agriculture experts traveling around Thailand in mid-September under the guidance of the Royal Thai Embassy in Israel. They were there to share their expertise with rural Thai farmers, who came to meet them at five different Royal Development Study Centers. Prachachit – at the Puparn Royal Development Study Center in the northeastern Sikhon Nakhon Province – was one of these farmers, who reacted with amazement and gratitude at the huge impact some small changes in their cattle rearing practices could make.
At Puparn, beef cow researchers are raising combinations of both standard French Charolais cattle and black Tajima cows – responsible for Japan’s worldfamous, and world-famously expensive, Kobe beef. The latter are descended from two originals that Japan gave the princess of Thailand. In addition to the Tajima cows, the center specializes in blackbone chicken, prized for their melanin pigmentation, as well as black pigs.
Prachachit and his colleagues readily admitted to Carmi, in Thai through translators, that they never checked the temperature of their cattle. Neither had Wisut Auekingpetch, the veterinarian at the center, and his team.
Without properly measuring temperatures, it is difficult to determine a cow’s degree of suffering and determine when a cool-down is necessary, Carmi explained to them.
“In general, the ruminant is not equipped with heat stress tolerance because they were bred in stressed countries. They need help in cooling,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
This help mechanism involves measuring rectal temperatures and then lowering said temperatures by means of evaporative cooling – a combination of hosing the animals down and fanning them, according to Carmi.
A ruminant produces the equivalent of 2,000 watts of heat, and the consequences of failing to cool the animal properly can be detrimental. For example, in response to a farmer who was having trouble successfully inseminating female beef calf bearers, Carmi explained that when in desperation, the cow diverts her blood away from her uterus and ovaries as a cooling mechanism.
“That’s why she doesn’t conceive in the tropics,” he said. “It’s very simple.”
The farmers sat in amazement, marveling that something so simple and inexpensive could help improve the quality of their beef cattle so drastically.
THE SAME sentiment had prevailed among dairy cow farmers the previous day at Huai Hong Khrai Royal Development Study Center in the northwestern Chiang Mai Province.
At Huai Hong Khrai, the dairy farmers had only been generating about three liters of milk twice per day, as opposed to the daily average of 36 liters in Israel, Carmi told the Post.
“They have a very strange thermometer that made it hard to see the mercury,” he noted. “They don’t use it at all.”
Cooling the cows would allow them to become healthier and thereby produce much greater quantities of milk, he explained.
“The cow is an animal from the coldest hemisphere, like in Europe. So they are not equipped with natural devices to cool themselves,” he said. “For example, if you take a horse and you put him in the sun, he immediately starts to sweat. A cow does not start to sweat.”
A normal temperature for a cow might be 38.5ºC, “but if you don’t check it, you don’t know it,” he added.
“We cooled the cow, and within half an hour the cow started to feel more appetite. She started to eat, and after one and a half hours, she was normal as far as body temperature,” he recounted.
Dairy and meat cow farmers in the tropics are particularly oblivious to heat stress due to the sheer fact that it is typically so hot all year round, according to Carmi. In places like the northeastern United States, on the other hand, alarm bells sound for farmers as soon as the summer hot spells begin, and they immediately begin to alter the handling of their herds.
“That means that you cannot even think about being efficient in milk production in the tropics without taking into consideration a No. 1 priority, which is heat stress relief,” Carmi said.
In the tropical dairy industry, not only is it crucial that the farmers cool their cattle, but they also must make sure their milk is cooled right upon exit from the animal, as the liquid provides an excellent substrate for bacterial reproduction, Carmi stressed.
There are about 120,000 dairy cows in Israel, while there are only about 25,000 dairy cows in the Chiang Mai province. The price of raw milk in both countries is around the same – about NIS 2.10 per liter – but Israelis drink about 180 liters per person per year, while Thais drink only about 10 liters per person per year, statistics from both Carmi and the Huay Hong Krai center show.
BACK AT Puparn, despite mainly cultivating meat cattle, Auekingpetch the veterinarian told Carmi that he and his department were attempting to develop a special tropical dairy cow breed that would inherently be able to produce more milk.
To this, Carmi responded that “the dream to develop a tropical dairy cow is a utopia” and that “it won’t happen.” Neither meat nor dairy cows can exist as a special tropical breed because there is no way to dissipate all the heat that naturally occurs in a ruminant as well as the surrounding brutal air temperatures.
“It’s much easier to take a milk cow and giver her good conditions,” he said.
In response to a question of how much they should be feeding their cattle, he replied that in a cold climate, cows should eat about 4.5 percent of their body weight in dry food per day, so in a tropical climate, “as much as she wants to eat, you should feed her – unlimited.”
Chopped younger grass is the best type of food for the cow, grass that has grown for about 20 days, according to Carmi. In order to prevent bloating – another question the farmers had – people should be feeding their cattle the grass the next morning, when it is a bit less fresh – a mechanism that will make the grass easier to digest, he said.
Protein quantities will not diminish after preserving fresh cattle feed overnight, Carmi assured them.
Another tip he gave the farmers was that when cross-breeding cattle, they must make sure the resultant calf will not be too big for the cow giving birth.
One particular breed of cows that Israeli meat farmers prefer is Belgian Blue, which provides a small, light-boned calf and quality meat, and this would be highly preferable to the French Charolais, he said.
After contemplating all of Carmi’s guidelines, Prachachit said he would definitely be following his Israeli colleague’s advice when it came to cutting fresh grass and leaving it overnight before feeding his animals. As far as checking the temperature of his cattle and making sure to cool them down properly, he said this would be feasible.
“Next time you come, will you bring the Belgian Blue semen with you?” Prachachit asked Carmi, laughing.