Yangebai Township, in Weichang County, lies between the Yanshan mountain range and the Mongolia Plateau. For residents of Yangebai, animal husbandry activities are the number one source of income. Farmers have been buying cattle to raise in the mountains for years. When the cows roam freely, hillsides are destroyed. Loose soil and sand is washed down into the river by powerful rains, eventually blocking the river’s flow.
In December 2011, Heifer China introduced a new cattle breeding technology to the community and showed the farmers how the environmentally friendly “barn” method could preserve their land and increase their profits. Because barn building requires both time and money, most of the farmers were not willing to commit.
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In order to change the Yangebai farmers’ minds, Heifer China performed a contrast experiment. In 2013, three demonstration farms were built. Ten cows, all in the same physical condition, were bred on each farm. One farm had no warm barns; the second had no silage; and the third had no warm barns or silage. Under the community coordinator’s leadership, Heifer China staff recorded the production of each farm between January 1-March 30, 2013.
The most dramatic differences were found between the farm without barns and the farm that was fully equipped with barns and silage. Among the 10 cows that had no warm barns, four lost between 25-92 pounds in 150 days, while the cows that had warm barns and silage gained nearly 3 pounds a day.
After the experiment, the farmers were convinced that warm barns make a huge difference in production. Winter weather is so harsh in this area, and, without adequate shelter, cattle can become extremely stressed. Cows struggle to gain weight under stress, but when they can escape the cold and eat nutritious silage, the gain weight easily.
After measuring the advantages of having warm barns against the money and time it would take to build them, the Yangebai farmers agreed to join the project. In the spring of 2013, they planted 89 acres of silage corn, 10 times more than 2012. Through June, 360 project participants worked to build their cattle barns, moving step-by-step from a free-herding environment. Moreover, they planted 41 acres of grass on eroded hillsides. In addition to improving the cattle’s well-being, these measures significantly improved the Earth, environment and ecology.
Story and Photo by Xiao Wenguo