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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care July 2013

Hi Folks,

I spent two weeks abroad recently - one week in Holland for a follow-up CowSignals® training course, and the next week in Turkey attending an organic conference where I was invited to speak on the non-antibiotic treatment of infectious disease. Both activities broadened my view on dairy farming, and hopefully I can transfer insights as time goes by. I’ve talked about Holland in other newsletters, so I’ll focus on Turkey - its similarities and differences both in dairy farming and culture in general.

First, I am always amazed at how friendly people are when I come to visit, whether it is in various areas of the US or Canada or far away in Turkey. Being an English speaker makes it easy to communicate in many countries, but I constantly needed a translator in Turkey - unless one of the Turkish conference people had spent time at an English speaking university. The Turkish language is very pleasant to listen to but completely unrelated to any languages I know (English, Netherlands Dutch, and Spanish). Fortunately for conference attendees, the slides for my 20 minute talk were shown in both Turkish and English.

It is interesting how dairy farming is very similar around the world, whether in hi-tech Holland where many cows are now milked by robotic milking machines or in more traditional Turkey where people attach milking units by hand on commercial farms. People with very few cows still milk by hand in Turkey just as there are people here in the US that milk by hand. The breeds I saw were mainly purebred Simmental or Holstein.

We did not visit any of the tiniest villages that have 2-3 cows bedded right next to the family home, as there was an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease occurring. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) pops up in the countryside from time to time. All livestock markets were closed due to FMD. One person said FMD is due to animals smuggled in from Iran, which may be the case. But with very small herds of 2-3 cows grazed together - with a shepherd watching cows during the day for many families - exchange of disease is very possible. I asked if they vaccinate against FMD and veterinarians said they do, some 2-3 times a year, since the virus changes and so the vaccines need to change. An older method of inoculating animals is by wiping the mouth of an infected animal with a rag, and then wiping it onto the mouth of another. Whether this spreads the disease or prevents it is an open question in my thinking. TB and Brucella are also still there but the government has control programs, so hopefully they can eradicate them.

The larger commercial farms enforce standard bio-security precautions, such as people wearing plastic booties and disposable white paper jackets when walking onto the farm, as well as vehicles driving through a shallow trough filled with antiseptic. Regardless of where a farm is (Turkey, Holland, US, anywhere) bio-security is a smart strategy that more people should use.

The cows on the 3 farms I visited were all certified organic and all looked good: well-fed, good muscle tone, and udders that produce about 6500 kg (14,000 lbs). Many cows had health stripes/ “happy lines”. The two farms I saw with 40 and 80 cows had free stalls and milked their cows in a separate headlock area. No parlors of any sort - just simply a headlock area to milk. Depending on local regulations here, this would seem like a very cheap way to milk cows “parlor-style” (milking groups of cows). The farmers attach the milking machine from the rear of the cow. The free-stalls looked similar to many stables I’ve seen here – same shape of free-stall bars/pipes and same curbing. It looked like the bedding was simply dirt/soil. The cows go outside every day.

In general, there is no fencing to be found, except around the buildings of a large 1000-cow farm to keep wild animals out. I saw cows on pasture in the distance at the 80-cow farm during milking time, so I guess they were the dry cows. Real grazing was seen when we came upon a shepherd walking with and watching over about 40 cows in the hills. They all looked in good body condition, although the udders were not very large. Water came down from the mountains in lengthy hand-dug trenches about 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide, mainly running along the contour. Animals could drink freely from the narrow trenches. Old Roman aqueducts could be seen conveying water along the mountainside. I’ve never seen communal grazing with a shepherd, so it was very exciting to talk with him a little and have my photo taken with him. He is paid minimum wage, which is 990 Turkish liras a month (about $500/month).

I was in eastern Anatolia, which has gentle rolling hills upon a plain, sitting at an altitude of 4200 feet. It is semi-arid with about 20 inches (650 mm) of rain a year. Anatolia is in the heartland of the country, ringed by thick, rugged mountains, some of which were still snow-capped at the end of June. The region I was in is exceptionally clean with little pesticide use and is the prime organic area of the country. Farmers grow lots of alfalfa, sanfoin (a non-bloating legume), and small grains. Some corn is grown, but the season is generally too short. Hazelnuts are a major crop. Along the eastern Black Sea it’s very warm and humid with lots of tea grown. Every day, we drank lots of a dark red tea (Chai). Dairy products include a young soft white cheese, served in the shape of cubes, which is somewhat salty and easy to eat lots of! I also enjoyed a drinkable salty yogurt called aiyran. Historically, yogurt is originally a Turkish product. The very popular Chobani yogurt is made by a Turk of Armenian background. Though I don’t eat much meat, the lamb and beef was delicious. Chunks of cucumber, tomato and cheese were served at every meal.

Turkey, or Asia Minor as it’s called in the Bible, is a unique society standing at the crossroads of the Arabic Middle East and Christian Europe. Turkey is 99% Muslim (but don’t ever refer to Turks as Arabs!) and I was glad to meet people of another faith who are just as genuine, sincere, friendly and hard-working as many people I know here. In every town, people are called to prayer 5 times a day from loudspeakers on mosques – beginning at about 3:45 am and ending at about 10pm. The first night, I sat bolt upright in bed when the loudspeakers blared out the call to prayer at 3:45am. At various times I took the opportunity to use the standard Muslim prayer rug provided in hotel rooms to pray and meditate on the Lord’s Prayer while the prayer song of the mosque was heard throughout the town. We also visited the Sumela Monastery, a small village carved into a mountain cliff by monks in 375 AD. The beautiful art of Biblical scenes that cover the inside and outside of the Rock Church is truly inspirational. Between seeing mosques and hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day, to seeing art depicting the New Testament healings and teaching of Jesus, I clearly see how humans in every culture take time to show the importance of God in their life in many different ways. Regardless of religious views, may we all connect, respect and have reverence for that-of-God in all life with which we interact: people, animals, plants and soil.

Communal grazing of cows and water ditch for drinking

Cows in headlocks being milked from behind

Sumela Monastery, built in 375 AD


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