Cows A
Cows.  Balinese, organic cows.

I just bought two cows.  This seems like a strange thing for a vanilla and lobster company to do, and to some people, they will think we are stretching ourselves in all sorts of directions.

Actually, we are knitting together vanilla and lobsters, as will become obvious.  But first, let’s talk cows.

Cows are ruminants, that in nature feed on grass and nothing else.  However, in temperate climes there is no grass in winter, so dried grass (hay) had to be stored and fed to them.  This is labour intensive, so other methods have been developed.  Perhaps the first was silage, where the green grass is essentially pickled to preserve as many nutrients as possible.  This is ok, as we all know fermented products are good for you.

But it has gone further, with cows being fed grain and other products, including feed made from dead cows.  Not surprisingly, this led to a nasty brain disease which could spread to the humans that ate the cows.  They don’t feed dead cows to live cows anymore, but lots of other dubious feed makes its way down some cows’ throats.

In some countries, they developed the feed lot, because they could raise more cows on less ground.  The cows stayed in the shed their whole lives, fed artificial feed.  In America, this grain fed cow is considered to be tastier…  Don’t be fooled and stick to grass fed beef.  That’s natural.  You have no idea (neither do I) what additive makes grain fed beef taste better…

In Indonesia, and particularly Bali, we don’t have wide pastures for the cows to roam.  At one point, they just rambled around the villages.  But cows are big animals and this caused all sorts of issues, so a law was passed that they couldn’t roam.  Many farmers built little sheds for them in the fields, and in many places the government have provided sheds for the people to use.  The cow owner then gets up early every morning and goes off to cut grass, bringing it back to the cow.  Mostly this is organic, however some of the grass is harvested from between the padi fields, so if they are sprayed, the grass gets it too.  But the best grass, preferred by the cows, is to be found down the rivers, wild grass.  Of course, when there is a pest outbreak and lots of pesticide is sprayed, I am sure this reaches even this wild grass.  Yet the vast majority is from clean places.

Does this make the cows totally organic?

No.  They get given other food, in particular the trunks of banana trees, chopped up and with some rice bran sprinkled over it.  There is very little rice bran, but this isn’t organic and they all get it.  As far as I can discover, they get no vaccinations, or antibiotics or any other medication.  But they definitely would if they got sick.  Being organic or not is irrelevant here, they just do what is most practical.

Do they make any money from the cows?

This is tragic.  It is lack of alternatives to keep them in this manner.  They don’t eat the beef themselves, for the cows are just too big and even shared around the community it isn’t practical.  A calf is purchased for Rp 4 million, and kept for free in the government-built facility.  The owner must collect grass for his cow daily and remove the waste.  After a year and a half, when the calf is 2 years old, it can be sold for 8 million.  Less than $400 for two years work.  At 3 ½ years old, the cow can be injected for 100,000 to make it pregnant.  A year later, the calf can be sold for 4 million or perhaps more if it is a bull.  Dreadful.

So why did I buy cows?  Right now, in the middle of a foot and mouth epidemic?  Well, we need worms to feed the lobsters.  To raise the worms, we need lots of cow manure.  Two old ladies had bought cows a year ago and were finding the work too much, but couldn’t sell because of the epidemic, which prevents the transport of cows to market.  We bought them for a good price, but I told the boys not to take advantage of the old ladies and give the market price.  I think this was important, as there was no love lost…

Now we have two cows on the hill above the lobster ponds.  Agung Raka is their carer, committed to rising early every morning to cut the grass.  He has erected a rope coming down from the cows to the wormery and he slides the manure down in buckets.  As this is over the path to the fields (and Garden 15), I am convinced he is going to dump a load on somebody one day…

In the wormery, we have built four pens, 2x1m by 60cm deep.  These he fills with the manure.  In the first one we have tiger worms, brandlings.  In the second, ordinary earthworms.  We’ll see which is better.  By better, there are two criteria.  First, how fast they breed and demolish the manure.  Second, how effective they are as a feed for the lobsters.

Once the manure is demolished, we remove half and refill with more manure.  The removed half is then separated from the worms using sunlight (the worms go away from the sun) and beautiful worm manure is used as a mulch on the vanilla…  thus, saving us from having to buy cocopeat and providing a good potassium boost for the vanilla to encourage flowering.  At last, the synergy becomes apparent!!!

Is this the end of the story?  Not really, although it is the main part.  In two years’ time the cows will receive artificial insemination and we shall own two calves as well.  At the time we shall be able to decide whether to increase the herd or sell them.  I suspect we shall be increasing the herd, because in two years’ time we shall need about 300 tons of lobster feed each month…  This is all about experimentation, to find the right way to do things.


Rex Sumner

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