Vila Times

New project to improve beef cattle productivity on Santo

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Australian volunteer Jamie Quilliam, currently in Vanuatu, has written a column for the Australian newspaper Circular Head Chronicle, telling about the project, aimed to improve beef cattle productivity in Luganville, he is involved with.

His article below.


The project I am working with is called Bisnis Blong Buluk Projek (Business of Beef Project) which is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

This is a research – rather than development – project to ‘Increase the productivity and market options for smallholder beef cattle farmers in Vanuatu’.

The research includes: forage production, legume persistence, sourcing stock water, supplementary feeding, business planning, cattle monitoring (weighing and herd profile) and numerous other activities including social and economic case studies of smallholder farmers and their families. The research outcomes will include advice on forages, recommended extension work for farmers, business plans, infrastructure design and numerous other suggested activities and extension work.

The project is led by a team of scientists from two universities in Australia and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Mareeba. Simon from University of QLD is a ruminant specialist and is leading the project. Scott also from UQ is an agricultural economist, Cherise from Southern Cross University is a social scientist and Kendrick is an agronomist and tropical forage specialist from the department in Mareeba, far north QLD.

On the ground here in Luganville, I work in the Department of Livestock and Department of Industry. I work directly with two local Ni-Vanuatu blokes, Joseph and Mangau. They are fantastic fellas to work with and we all have a lot of respect for each other.

We have just started cattle monitoring and herd profiling in three villages. We monitor the stock twice a year: at the beginning of the wet season and beginning of the dry season.

It is quite an education for both the farmers in the bush and myself to see the clash of old and new technology.

The project has funded and imported (from Australia) a mobile cattle crush with scales and monitor. We move the crush from farm to farm by four wheel drive vehicle and set up to profile, ID tag, weigh and the farmer can carry out any other veterinary activities on their stock.

Once we arrive at a farm it takes Joseph, Mangau and I about 20 to 30 minutes to set up the crush ready to weigh. All the data is collected on a tablet which is uploaded into the cloud (online storage) weekly.

The village farms have small herds of cattle from five to 50 head. The average is around 20 head. Most of the stock graze under coconut plantation (for copra production) and many are tethered particularly during weaning. All herds are cow-calf operations. Many farmers do not have a stockyard, those that do are made from bamboo, kusis (tree used for fencing) and rough sawn timber offcuts with bush cut posts. Stockyards are crude but generally work as long as the cattle do not get stirred up. Termites regularly get into the stockyards and destroy them, so we often turn up to a farm and the cattle may or may not have been yarded or may or may not still be in the yard.

Escape and destruction of yards is common place in the village when cattle are involved. Often half the herd may be in and the rest avoided the muster. This is all part of life volunteering in the bush.