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Epic journey

Released at: 23:11, 11/05/2015 Agriculture Invesment

Epic journey

The story of TH true MILK is of a clean milk stream from Vietnam's north-central region and its flow to become an Asian record-breaker.

by Nguyen Hoai & Minh Tien

In April and August every year the online community is always surprised by images of sunflower fields taken in Nghia Dan district. Many are doubtful about the location and think it can’t be anywhere other than Europe. Authorities in Vietnam thought the same way at one time, believing that sunflowers could only survive in temperatures of 25 to 28C, as can be found in Lam Dong province in the central highlands and Lao Cai province near the Chinese border.

Modern PIVOS sprinkler irrigation system on TH Group's pasture

People living nearby the sunflowers take advantage of the blossom season, renting out five-meter high ladders for visitors to take panoramic photos of the vast fields.

Most visitors to the sunflower fields are there for sightseeing, seeking the unique experience of withstanding the hot, dry westerly winds that blow in from Laos for more than four months every year. Not many know, though, that the beautiful flowers are also feed for 45,000 cows at the TH true MILK dairy project, whose numbers are expected to increase to 137,000 by 2017.
Along with 50 hectares of sunflowers, the TH true MILK project has many other fields of corn, kaoliang, and Mombasa forage. Mr. Ngo Huy Han, Chief Administrative Officer of TH true MILK, said that their agricultural engineers grow sunflowers after a crop of corn and kaoliang in a rotation strategy that lessens the risk of soil disease. Moreover, the crushed sunflowers are also nutritious feed for the cows, helping to increase protein levels by 6 to 16 per cent and improving milk quality as a result.

Mr. Nguyen Le Thang, Horticulture Manager of the project, was an agriculture engineer living with his wife and kids in Phu Tho province - about 400 kilometers from Nghe An - when he accepted the job offer from TH true MILK. He was amazed to find that the job was at the largest dairy project ever in Vietnam. After five years at the company the young, slender engineer has become the manager of the entire forage fields, which total hundreds of hectares.

In order to have such green and clean pastures the project had to apply complete automation technology in forage production, from land preparation to fertilizing, cultivating and, finally, harvesting. The forage is harvested by giant cropping machines, with each machine’s productivity equal to 800 men, said Mr. Thang. Every 10 minute a cropping machine can harvest 1 ton of forage, or 500 tons each day.

“Self-contained technology”

Sunflowers and the endless pastures are just the start of the story about the clean milk stream from TH, with the main chapter being about the company’s cows.

TH true MILK’s herd now numbers 45,000 cows, of which 45 to 50 per cent regularly produce milk at an average yield of 40 liters each per day. Every month the herd welcomes between 1,500 and 2,000 calves, depending on the season.

In order to raise a herd that produces quality milk the project followed the advice of Israeli experts and carefully analyzed the natural conditions, the climate, and weather data for Nghia Dan district from the past 15 years to come up with an appropriate breeding strategy. To have the right breed the Israeli experts directly examined every feature of cows from New Zealand in order to select the best bull semen, producing calves that meet all the requirements of the project.

With a closed feeding process from input to output through a modern management system that uses intranet, all cow feed and rations are supervised regarding quantity, feed type, and food safety.

Health monitoring is also carried out rigorously. The entire herd is divided into many clusters, all within the project zone but each about 10 kilometers away from one another. For absolute safety for the cows, the project conducts disease prevention sprays over a radius of four kilometers every month. If there is any appearance of disease outbreaks such as the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) in neighboring localities then the cycle for disease prevention spraying is shortened, sometimes taking place so often that passing traffic along the old Ho Chi Minh Trail has to be stopped. Each cow has also been implanted with a Permete chip to closely monitor its health, and any with mastitis or any other instability are immediately removed from the milking process.

Before being milked the cows are kept for 20 minutes in an intermediate camp where classical music is played. “After listening to the music the cows are totally relaxed and the milk quality is much better,” an Israeli expert explained. Some may find it hard to believe there is a link between classical music and milk quality, but it is quite easy to see the comfortable state of relaxation the cows are in when the music is played.

Each cow of TH's Dairy Farm has also been implanted with a Permete chip to closely monitor its health

The milking process is also closed, and the cows’ nipples are cleaned thoroughly before the milking hose is attached. The machine then automatically unplugs when the cow’s udder is dry. On average, each cow provides up to 40 liters of milk every day. Through a cooling pipeline system the milk is then cooled rapidly, down to less than 4C, and transferred to the TH Mega packaging plant five kilometers away. The whole process is completely self-contained; as air cannot reach inside nor can bacteria or viruses. This is why the farm workers say “it’s like drinking directly from the cow.”

TH true MILK now has a remarkable line of up to 30 different products, serving the diverse needs of consumers.

“With a burning desire to realize ‘For the Vietnamese Stature’ goals, we successfully organized ‘The Launching Ceremony of Sharing Hands for the Vietnamese Stature Program’, calling for awareness and effort from society in improving the stature and physical strength of younger Vietnamese generations.
At the ceremony, the clean and fresh dairy product TH School Milk was accredited as ‘effective in research to improve the nutritional and micronutrient status of children’.
2015 is a pivotal year for TH. We have received a Certificate as an Asian Record-breaker and we will celebrate our fifth anniversary of establishment and the presentation of the very first glass of clean and fresh TH true MILK. And in July we will penetrate the US market with our clean and natural aromatizers and herbals (from the TH Herbals JSC)."

Ms. Thai Huong, Chairwoman of the TH Group

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