Day 7 of the journey through Cameroon brought our team to the third and final Heifer International project visit, a dairy initiative in Bamendankwe. It was here we met George, Gracie and their five children, who run a dairy operation that received its first animal from Heifer International in 2005.
When we spoke to George and Gracie about the impact Heifer had on their operation, and their lives, they noted that it has increased their relationships and that George is now able to farm 75% of the time, whereas before he was a full-time builder.
The impact of Heifer extends into every aspect of the family’s life. Their diet has become more balanced now that they are drinking milk daily and as a result, their hospital visits have decreased. In addition to improving the health of their family, all of the children are now in school, with one at university. It’s George and Gracie’s plan to hand the farm over to one of their children some day.
The operation consists of three Holstein cattle named Jimmy, Happy and Hope. The names Happy and Hope are for the newfound happiness the family has found as dairy farmers and the hope they have to grow the herd to five cows. The family also hopes to continue prospering so that they can pass their blessings on— they’ve already passed on the gift of a pregnant cow to another family.
In terms of the day-to-day specifics of the operation, the family milks the cows twice daily and gathers forage for their diet, which consists of local grasses (rich in protein, starch and carbs), along with some corn, wheat bran, soybean and cotton. Each cow will milk between 15-25 lbs. a day. One liter of this milk will earn the family 200 Cameroon francs (~USD 0.50). In addition to the dairy operation, the family also raises forage grasses, cocoa, yams, corn, beans, bananas, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes, which they eat and can also sell.
The cattle’s pen structure consists of eucalyptus wood for the fence walls and concrete floors (the concrete helps keep the animals clean and prevent diseases) with a roof that’s either thatched or tin. There are different areas within the structure for calves, including a milking parlor and cubicles to rest. The calves are kept in a pen for their first four months, and then weaned from their mother.
For reproduction, they use one co-op bull; when you’re ready to breed your cow, you walk it to the farm where the bull is kept. If a cow has a male offspring, they will raise the bull to maturity and sell it, but female calves are preferred.
One of the more interesting events George and Gracie told about was that every evening the community farmers go down to what they call “the drinking spot.” It’s here that they pasteurize the milk by boiling it.
All in all, the visit to George and Gracie’s operation was eye opening, and we’re very thankful they took the time to share with us. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, we’ve seen that some of the biggest gaps for dairy production in Cameroon involve transportation and a lack of centralized processing units to allow for easier distribution.
Join us here next time as we continue our travels through Cameroon.