Article originally by Nichola Calvani, PhD student, The University of Sydney & Edited by Professor Emeritus Peter Windsor

Located an hour out of town in Luang Prabang on the way to Kuang Si waterfall is Ban Phaksi, a beautiful village surrounded by turquoise streams and rivers sourced from the magnificent falls themselves, a popular tourist attraction in northern Laos. Here, Mr Heuan shares some land with his brother-in-law, Mr Home, where he grows rice for his family and forage for his cattle.

Photo: Mr Heaun (right) being interviewed by PhD student Nichola Calvani with help from Lao DLF Staff Mr Bouakeo Phanphouma and Mr Phoud Thammavong (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

Mr Heuan has been working with The University of Sydney and The Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) under their co-run ACIAR-funded (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) project aimed at improving biosecurity and disease control for improved marketing of cattle  (ACIAR AH2012/068). He remembers the commencement of the project in 2015 very well as it started the positive changes to his farming practices. He was even able to quote the exact date he commenced in the project to University of Sydney PhD student, Nichola Calvani. Nichola was at the farm to sample his cattle for evidence of infestation by liver fluke (Fasciola spp.). This work aims to develop a new approach to parasite control, via use of medicated nutrient blocks for cattle. In addition to initial ACIAR support, the work is now supported by the ‘Business Partnership Platform’ (BPP) project funded by DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade). Mr Heuan advised:

When the project first started I had 13 cattle. Now I have 46”.

Photo: Mr Heuan watches his cattle return to the forest after sampling during their involvement in the BPP-funded medicated molasses block trial for the control of liver fluke (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

This enormous increase in his herd in the last 4 years, was assisted by biosecurity and other training, plus animal management interventions. It enabled him to sell more cattle each year, with more calves on the ground and surviving each season. Mr Heuan was then able to buy a better quality bull by selling some of his cows, and now grows forages to support their nutritional demands. This is particularly important in the dry season when he is able to sell more high-quality animals more frequently. His involvement with the project has meant that, according to Heuan:

My son could study and I was able to sell some cows to pay for his wedding”.

Photo: Mr Heuan (left) and Mr Home (right) being interviewed by PhD student Nichola Calvani and Lao team member Mr Bouakeo Phanphouma (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

Mr Heuan learned the importance of biosecurity and vaccinations to prevent disease, which he claimed was the most important factor allowing him to rapidly grow his herd. His brother-in-law, Mr Home, with whom he shares grazing land for his cattle, has also benefitted from his involvement with the project, advising:

When the project started I had 4 or 5 cows and 6 buffalo. I sold my buffalo to buy more cattle and I now have 15 animals”.

Photo: Mr Heuan and Mr Home’s cattle in their home-made bamboo cattle race (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

This may not seem like such a significant increase when compared to his brother-in-law, but this figure does not account for the large number of animals that he is now able to sell each year to help provide cash for his young family. Mr Home said:

My cows are now strong and fat, with no disease, so they are worth more money than before”

Together they now own more land than when they first started working with the project, and Mr Home hopes to invest in growing forage in the future, having observed the benefits on the farm of his brother-in-law. Both of their wives also contribute to the management of their animals, with neither needing to do external work, allowing them to spend more time raising their children and managing their households.

Photo: Mr Home’s wife watches over their child playing with some of the many calves born this season (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

The two families have been impressed with their involvement in the BPP project, using both medicated and un-medicated molasses feed supplement blocks to control liver fluke and improve nutrient supply, provided by the Brisbane-based company Four Seasons Pty Ltd. Prior to this project, both were previously unaware that liver fluke was endemic on their farm, although Mr Home had noted that he had seen ‘leaves’ (fluke parasites) in the livers of their cattle and at social events such as weddings, but had never considered this to be a detriment to production or danger to human health. Since working with the project, they have both learned the importance of controlling for liver fluke and other parasites, particularly Toxocara vitulorum in newborn calves. They now appreciate the benefits of pyrantel administration in young calves allowing their survival, with more calves and increased growth rates.

Photo: Mr Heuan drives a shipment of molasses feed supplement block across one of the turquoise blue rivers running through their property (Photo: Nichola Calvani)

They also noted that not only has supplementation with the blocks made their animals stronger and healthier, but they now come back from free-grazing in the forest more willingly. Both expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work with both the ACIAR and BPP-funded projects. They agreed that they hoped to continue working with the DLF in the future to keep growing their herds, while learning more about how to keep them happy, healthy and profitable.

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