Prof Em Peter Windsor, 17/06/17
On Thursday June 15th, 2017, members of the MLR team from the Lao DLF (Dr Syseng Khounsy) and USYD (Drs Peter Windsor and Sonevilay Nampanya, with project coordinator Isabel MacPhillamey & PhD student Luisa Olmo), crossed the Nim river by ferry (Figure 1) and visited an interesting ‘cattle bank’ enterprise in Boungpao village, Toulakhom District, approximately 60km from Vientiane capital. This occurred during a field trip to inspect the local manufacture by Mr Vanthanouvong, of 6 mechanical forage ‘choppers’ ordered by the in-country Lao project leadership. The cost of each chopper is USD190 for use with a hand tractor, or USD310 if required with a motor. These devices are considered essential for improving the utilisation of high fibre forages (e.g. Napier and Guinea grasses) for cattle fattening and potentially silage production (Figure 2). The choppers will be provided to our 4 collaborating provinces (LPB, XK, XB, SAV) & 2 universities (NUOL & SavU) by our research project on development of a biosecure beef marketing system for Laos (ACIAR/2012/068).
Figure 1. MLR team on ferry crossing river to village (from left: Peter Windsor, Luisa Olmo, Isabel MacPhilamey & Syseng Khounsy)
This ‘cattle bank’ is a private enterprise initiative of the Phonesack company, supported by high level Lao government officials. This village enterprise involves 60 local farmers, and has been in operation for almost 3 years (reputedly similar operations are occuring in other locations). Each farmer needs to have at least 5 cows and is expected to grow forage to enable fattening by grass-fed feed-lotting (Figure 3). The co-operative enterprise provides an extra ‘crossbred’ cow (Brahman x Indigenous breed) ‘on loan’, with the first calf returned to the co-operative, the 2nd retained by the farmer, the third passed to another farmer, and the cow and all further calves then considered to be owned by the farmer. Matings are arranged by payment for service using superior bulls owned by several of the farmers in the village. All cattle in the enterprise are vaccinated regularly for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia.
Figure 2. Mr Touay Vanthanouvong demonstrating use of one the 6 forage choppers currently being prepared for ACIAR project AH/2012/068
With the wet season now commencing and increasing available forage for feeding, the cattle in the inspected feed-lot appeared to be flourishing and the owners interviewed were pleased with the initiative. However, the history of ‘cattle banks’ have not always been positive and whether this initiative proves to be sustainable, particularly with the obligations of the ‘calf return’ process, remains to be seen. With the current market demand for beef in Vientiane exceeding local supply, the current situation for expansion and improved efficiency of beef cattle production in Laos appears strong, despite the significant increase in cattle numbers into the region in recent years, particularly from Australian live cattle exports into Vietnam, Cambodia and potentially China.
Figure 3. Sonevilay Nampanya, Mr Touay Vanthanouvong & Syseng Khounsy observing cattle in forage feed-lot fed chopped fresh forages
Whilst these are positive developments for the livelihoods of many smallholder and semi-commercial Lao farmers, the expansion of the Lao cattle trade also raises some important issues that need to be managed. In particular, increasing live trade leads to significant increases in the risks of transmission of infectious and non-infectious diseases respectively. The principles and practices of animal biosecurity plus improvement of the current veterinary surveillance system and veterinary and animal science training capacity in Laos, is becoming increasingly important for Lao livestock farmers and other stakeholders, including policy makers.