The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project is helping 120 members of the Republika Srpska Association of Farmers - Dairy Producers to implement the free-range cattle breeding, and start using a web application to optimize cattle feeding during the lactating period. Afterward, 20 farmers will be trained and equipped to perform artificial insemination on their herds.

These days, people working at the Republika Srpska (RS) Association of Farmers – Dairy Producers are very busy. They are doing something that has not been done in more than ten years. Supported by the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, they are implementing the training course on the artificial insemination of cows. Their goals are to make farmers more independent, to increase their yields and profits, and to improve the quality of the milk.

Artificial insemination

According to Aleksandar Marić, the secretary of the association from Banja Luka, training the farmers to conduct the artificial insemination will produce several benefits. “The farmers will be able to conduct the insemination when cows are fertile regardless of whether a vet is available. They will also be able to choose better genes. This way they will be able to grow their herds more quickly, they will lower the costs of the artificial insemination, and they will have greater profits."

Aleksandar notes that the last time the association provided such training to farmers was ten years ago. Such training courses are contributing to the implementation of the new trend whereby more and more responsibility for the wellbeing of the livestock is being transferred from the public institutions to the farmers. "In some more developed countries, the farmers can also provide medical care to cattle. That is still not the case here, and they have to call in a veterinarian if they notice that something is wrong."

It is allowed for the farmer in BiH to conduct the artificial insemination. Nonetheless, the association had to receive authorization by the RS Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Management to conduct the training.

"We will train farmers from 20 farms, and we will provide them with artificial insemination equipment. They will get theoretical training first. The practical training in the smaller groups of six to seven farmers will be done at three different farms," says Aleksandar.

The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project will also print the artificial insemination guidebook, to be used as a reference document after the training sessions have been completed.

Free-range breeding and the use of IT

The artificial insemination of cows is not the only activity that is keeping Aleksandar and his colleagues busy. The FARMA II support also extends to the modernization of cattle feeding and breeding.

“We are now developing a web application that will enable farmers to produce optimal animal feed mixes based on the types of animal feed they have at their disposal, be it corn, hay, silage, or concentrate. The application will, for example, take into account the average size of the animal and the lactating stage, and these parameters will be used to create an optimal animal feed mix, which will increase the milk yields and quality, and make the farms more profitable,” says Aleksandar.

"In parallel to this, we will also provide guidelines on the free-range cattle breeding, in line with the EU norms and good agricultural and hygienic practices in milk production. This will lead to better health of the herds, bigger milk production, and better reproduction. This will also help prepare us for the eventual EU integration," he adds. "We will conduct these training sessions with 120 larger farmers."

Increasing milk production

The 120 farmers to be trained have 20 to 300 cows, and their training is a good start. The RS Association of Farmers – Dairy Producers has a total of 500 members. They produce some 40 million liters of milk a year, which they sell to dairy processors including Mlijekoprodukt, Meggle, and MI99. Their production accounts for 15 percent of all the milk produced in BiH and they want to increase it.

"Our members are interested in the scientific approach to milk production, and they want to improve their practices. Many of them are farmers for three generations already and take this job seriously. We are looking to meet the highest farming standards and production norms. For example, in Germany, one cow gives eight to ten thousand liters of milk a year.  While some of our farmers are managing to get the same, most are getting three to four thousand, and we want to gradually improve that," notes Aleksandar.

The three different training courses are to last from August to September 2020. By the end of the year, they are expecting to increase their production by at least two percent, and by much more in the years to come. Looking to the future, they are also planning to establish an online registry of herds so that the history of each animal can be tracked and the quality of herds improved by putting the focus on the reproduction of healthier and stronger cows and bulls.