THE differences between the Australian and Pakistani dairy industries are beyond measure, according to Glenormiston dairy farmer Denise Burrell.
Mrs Burrell – who has just returned home to the south-west after working with the Pakistani Government for two years – said there was so much Australia could teach the developing Asian dairy industry.
“We were employed with a government-owned company called Dairy Pakistan to essentially boost the productivity and profitability of dairy farms there,” she said.
The Glenormiston local has several years experience in dairy extension work, including with the National Herd Improvement Association, but admitted even she felt confronted by the enormous task ahead on arriving in Pakistan.
Pakistan, which has the fourth largest dairy industry in the world, produces milk entirely for the domestic market.
The country’s government has stepped up its efforts in a bid to make Pakistan entirely self-sustainable in regards to milk production.
Part of that was lifting production levels from a low per head rate of four to seven litres, compared to the average 25-32L in Australian herds on a grass-based system.
“The industry is so different,” Mrs Burrell said.
“You have to remember that average farms over there generally consist of 15-20 cows and that includes only 3-4 milking cows.”
In comparison to a pasture-based system in Australia, Pakistani dairy farmers use a ‘cut and carry system’, Mrs Burrell said.
“Farmers grow the crop, cut it and bring the feed to the animals,” she said.
“The animals are always tied up and have limited access to feed and water.”
Mrs Burrell said one of first tasks was to improve the lives of the dairy animals.
This meant free access to water through building small enclosures which allows the animals to be untethered and to move around freely.
Her extension work also involved working with individual farmers to teach basic farm techniques, many of which come as “second nature” to Australian producers.
“It was a huge task. Dairy extension had never been done before in Pakistan and we were starting from scratch,” she said.
“We worked with producers to empower them to be better farmers.
“We taught them how to look after crops, soil, apply fertiliser, manage calves, feed livestock and treat mastitis, which is a huge problem there, as well as many other health problems. You name it – we did it.”
Working with a team of 15 staff, which comprised local agricultural and veterinary graduates, Mrs Burrell made her way around the five main Pakistani dairying regions.
She said the average dairy cow or buffalo only got in-calf once every two to three years, with breeds consisting of Buffalo, Friesian and locally-bred cows.
“One thing I noticed was the increase in imported Friesian cows, with most from Victoria,” she said.
“When I left, the demand for those dairy cows and Australian genetics was growing.”
Mrs Burrell said one of the biggest challenges was teaching farmers how to care for those cows, because they had to adjust to completely different feeding systems and disease threats.
“It was like a blank slate, because whatever we did was of great benefit to dairy farms,” she said.
“Once we had worked with the farmers for quite a long time, then we started to look at improving their farm management systems and budgets.”
And after two years, Mrs Burrell said the extension work really started to reap rewards across the Pakistan industry.
“You could notice a difference. We evaluated the projects the whole way along, so we could track improvements on individual farms and within regions,” she said.
“We had big improvements in productivity and saw some increases in herd size.
“We also noticed some decrease in numbers on some farms, but production levels were at higher rates so profitability still improved because the cows were better fed.
She said the other big factor was confidence.
“The Pakistani farmers became a lot more confident in the dairy industry,” she said.
Mrs Burrell said big gains were made in silage and hay production.
But after leaving in July last year, she said the Pakistan floods had a devastating impact on the country.
“It was a big setback; I think it will take years to recover,” she said.