SE Asia Report

Four beautiful Bali cows, destined for an uncertain future

Dr Ross Ainsworth, 03/06/2015

Ross Ainsworth's SE Asia Report

When I travelled back to Australia in early May to visit Beef 2015 in Rockhampton, I stopped in Bali to visit my friend and live export identity David Heath.

On Sunday morning he took me to the Beringkit cattle market which is about an hour’s drive to the north west of Denpasar. Bali’s cattle herd is shrinking fast with current estimates at around 600,000 head.

A combination of mechanisation and urbanisation are making Bali cattle redundant as draft animals at the same time as their grazing areas are being converted to more profitable uses. This situation in Bali is an extreme example of what is happening all over Asia. Land is becoming too valuable to graze cattle and mechanisation is providing farmers with the opportunity to cash in by selling their cattle and buffalo into the highly lucrative local slaughter markets.

The photo below is of four young Bali cows tethered on a “house block” of land in the very fashionable suburb of Seminyak. Dicky Adiwoso has just built a beautiful new villa about 100 metres from the site of the photo below so he rang the number on the DIJUAL (for sale) sign and was told that the land was 6 “are” (pronounced ara). One “are” is the local equivalent to 100 square metres. The asking price for this 600 square metre block was AUD $720,000! What chance is there that the owner will keep this land for grazing his cows when the parcel is potentially worth that much?

bali cows

4 Bali cows on this 600 square metre house block – for sale at $720,000.

The Beringkit market sells slaughter cattle two days a week and breeders on Sunday. Below is a photo of some Bali bulls left over from the previous slaughter sale waiting to be trucked. Most of the slaughter cattle sold here are sent to Java with the liveweight price in the sale yard at around Rp38,000 per kg or A$3.80. Accurate numbers are hard to determine but the flow of slaughter cattle from Bali to Java could be as low as 10,000 per annum. Slaughter buffalo were also a common site at this market in the past but very few are seen anywhere in Bali these days.

Bali bulls with their buyers mark awaiting trucking to Java.

Bali bulls with their buyers mark awaiting trucking to Java.

Local farmers buying and selling Bali cattle weaners at the Beringkit market. Young stock are sold per head and were fetching Rp8-9 million (AUD$800-900)

Local farmers buying and selling Bali cattle weaners at the Beringkit market. Young stock are sold per head and were fetching Rp8-9 million (AUD$800-900)

Bali cattle, arguably the most beautiful of all breeds of cattle, are an entirely separate species, Bos javanicus. They have many visual and behavioural qualities in common with deer. Because they have not been domesticated for as long as most other cattle breeds, they need to be kept under constant control through the use of their nose ropes or they will “forget” their education and return to a partially wild state and need some further training before they become domesticated once again.

Young breeders with their horns marked with colour codes denoting their buyer.

Young breeders with their horns marked with colour codes denoting their buyer.

Bali cattle are exceptionally fertile with calving rates of 90pc easily achievable even while they are feeding last year’s weaner. The trade off is that calves are born with a body weight of around 15kg and growth rates are very low.

Across the whole Asian region the same story is being played out where draft cattle and buffalo are being displaced by machinery and small holder beef cattle enterprises are finding more lucrative opportunities for the time and effort they previously allocated to their cattle. Even in Indonesia, where the back-yard cow acted as a savings account and insurance policy, farmers are opting to switch to motorbikes and other hardware that make life easier and remove the need to bend their weary backs for 2 hours every evening cutting grass for their cows.

Myanmar is the only country in the region that is not following this trend. Government policies banning exports of live cattle, active disputes along all of the rebel-controlled borders and a very weak economy ensure that the draft cattle and buffalo are still the main source of agricultural pulling power. Low average incomes and a high proportion of Buddhists means that domestic beef consumption is minimal. Given that restrictive government policies and ethnic disputes are unlikely to be resolved in the near future, Australia remains the only source of large numbers of suitable live cattle in the entire Asian region.

David Heath with a Bali bull that was sold twice in less than one hour while we watched the trading action.

David Heath with a Bali bull that was sold twice in less than one hour while we watched the trading action.

 

These incredibly efficient hand tractors make life easy for farmers rendering draft cattle and buffalo largely redundant.

These incredibly efficient hand tractors make life easy for farmers rendering draft cattle and buffalo largely redundant.

By changing the paddles for rubber tyres and dropping off the plough blades this machine can be quickly converted into a road tractor/trailer that very efficiently displaces the draft cow or buffalo. And you don’t have to spend 2 hours every night cutting grass for it!

By changing the paddles for rubber tyres and dropping off the plough blades this machine can be quickly converted into a road tractor/trailer that very efficiently displaces the draft cow or buffalo. And you don’t have to spend 2 hours every night cutting grass for it!

Dr Ross Ainsworth’s South East Asian reports are first published exclusively on Beef Central. To view more of Dr Ross Ainsworth’s previous Beef Central articles click here. To visit his personal South East Asia report blog site, click here.

 

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Comments

  1. Susi Johnston, 04/06/2015

    I buy cattle at Beringkit. It’s not far from my home. I think Dr. Ainsworth’s presence caused the prices of weaners to jump to the “whitey” prices! Three weeks ago I bought a beautiful pair of healthy weaners for Rp 4 million each (about $300). I was troubled that the price had increased so much (from the previous norm of Rp 3.5 million, then was reminded that the muslim holidays were coming, and this always causes an inflation in the price of cattle. Next time Dr. Ainsworth wants to buy cattle, he is welcome to drop me a line and I’ll gladly take him to Pasar Beringkit myself!

  2. john haskell, 03/06/2015

    You go ahead and keep your incredibly efficient hand tractor. I’ll stick with my inferior 122hp Belarus then.

  3. Peter Nicholson, 03/06/2015

    I agree with Dr. Ross Ainsworth that Bali cattle are probably the most beautiful of all breeds of cattle. However I cannot altogether agree that they quickly revert to a wild state if not tethered. During the 1970’s I was in charge of a World Bank project with ranches in Sulawesi Selatan and Sumba. I cannot remember just how many Bali cattle we ran in Sulawesi; but it amounted to several thousand which were run in herds of about 100 per paddock. Admitedly they had a shepherd constantly in attention; but they certainly were not difficult to handle.
    I also agree that they are so fertile as to be unbelievable.

    Whatever happened to the research herd of Bantan? Balinese cattle that was run for years on the DPI research station at Wildman River, East of Darwin? Editor

  4. Steve Ellison, 03/06/2015

    There still isolated herds in North Australia but be very careful they make our Shorthorn scrub bulls paddy calves temperament wise.

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