Most farmers wake up to the sound of roosters crowing in the morning. However, Hung Chang-chin (洪長進) starts the day to the mooing of his bovine herd. Hung is surrounded by cows throughout the day, as he works on his dairy farm in Erlin Township (二林), Changhua County.
“I live close to the cows to take good care of them,” said Hung, who is chief supervisor of the Dairy Farmer Association ROC Taiwan.
His house stands right next to the barnyard.
Hung used to grow vegetables on his parents’ farmland when he retired from military service.
“Farmers depend on heaven’s benevolence for their produce. In a good harvest, vegetable prices are low and it hurts the farmers. If there is a typhoon, then the prices are high, but farmers have nothing to sell,” he said.
He recalls Typhoon Wayne in 1986, which devastated the nation’s western regions and caused extensive damage to farmland and infrastructure.
Seeing the widespread devastation, he started to contemplate changing to another line of work.
At the time, Hung’s elder brother had a job promoting dairy products at the now defunct Taiwan Provincial Government’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and would bring home milk to relieve his mother’s stomach problem.
Hung said he thought that by raising his own cows his mother could have milk to drink every day, and so he decided to become a dairy farmer.
He learned how to grow hay and grass as feed, and studied adding a nutrient mix to the fodder. Hung started by purchasing 30 dairy cows in 1988, and his dairy farm now has a herd of 700.
“In the beginning, I did not have many cows, and was able to remember each animal’s special characteristics,” he said.
The novice dairy farmer gave nicknames to his cows, naming them after well-known Taiwanese singers and actresses of the 1970s, such as Pai Chia-li (白嘉莉), Yang Li-hua (楊麗花) and Brigitte Lin (林青霞).
Hung’s new working life revolved around the cows, and for eight years he never went back to his home.
Instead, he lived in a simple shed right next to the cattle barn.
Only later did he build a farmhouse near the barn, so it was possible to look after both his family and the herd.
“Before my dairy herd reached about 200 head of cattle, I used to know where each animal came from. Apart from the original 30 cows, the rest came via artificial insemination and I delivered them with my own hands,” Hung said.
The farmer remembers the awkward feeling he experienced the first time he put his hand into the private parts of an animal: “Putting my hand into the cow’s rectum, I touched something soft and warm. I then realized that the manure had to be scooped out by hand first.”
He joked that his dairy farm is often more like a maternity ward.
“I had to deliver more than 500 calves a year, and just like an obstetrician, I have to be on call all hours of the day and night. If a cow is giving birth in the middle of the night, I have to be there to deliver, even if it is cold outside and I want to sleep,” Hung said.
“When a cow gives birth, on average she can give milk for 305 days,” Hung said.
Each day he milks the cows at 5am, then does his rounds — tending to the calves and the adult animals, caring for pregnant cows, giving the herd fodder and administering health checks.
Since starting dairy farming, Hung has never been away from his herd, and only after his son recently took over management of the herd was he able to sit back and relax a little.
Hung’s son, Hung Ming-tsung (洪銘聰), graduated from the department of animal husbandry at the Chinese Culture University.
He has introduced new technology and modern concepts, including online monitoring to help manage the farm.
Now each animal’s condition can be recorded, even down to how many steps they take in a day.
A 3D ultrasound machine has replaced the need for the farmer to put his arm into the animal’s rear for a “hands-on” health check.
Hung Chang-chin says that the nation’s dairy industry is very labor intensive, which deters young people from entering it.
“The number of dairy farmers has declined from a few thousand at its peak, to about half of that amount now,” he said.
Hung Chang-chin was elected chief supervisor of the dairy farmers’ association last year.
He hopes to improve the quality of life for dairy farmers, and for the industry to become sustainable in the long term.