Following the annual planning meeting, the IndoBeef Reference Group and Leadership Team visited a farmer group grazing cattle on a palm plantation near Pekanbaru.
The Puja Kesuma Co-operative cattle group at this PalmCow research site was first formed in 2013 by a community of trans-migrants from Java. The group’s goals at establishment were to access cattle and support from the government, and to follow in the footsteps of nearby communities who had also established cattle co-operatives.
The group keeps a mix of approximately 50 Bali and 35 Brahman cross-bred cattle. The Bali cattle are generally owned by individuals within the group, while the Brahman cattle (imported from Australia) are owned collectively and were donated to the group by a government program. AI was introduced in 2014 to avoid inbreeding of cattle and improve herd quality.
The cattle are managed in a semi-intensive feeding as well as an extensive grazing system, within a palm plantation. Transported feed resources used include palm kernel cake and palm sludge. These resources are not always readily available and must be sourced from more distant factories. Members of the group believed that cattle grazing within the plantation had a positive impact on plantation productivity, by improving soil fertility and therefore the health of the palm trees.
The cattle are grazed within a commercial plantation. At the time of the field trip, some of the plantation had recently been re-planted, and cattle were not allowed to graze within it. However, farmers were able to harvest feed from the plantation for cut and carry feeding of their livestock. Additionally, individual farmers hold small parcels of oil palm plantation land, and this is where their cattle currently graze.
Group members manage the cattle on a scheduled basis, with everyone assigned a particular task such as cut and carry, feeding, cleaning of pens, and caring for sick animals. Generally, men are responsible for collecting fodder and women for cleaning the kandangs.
Jembrana disease is now endemic in the region, and the group lost a large proportion of Bali cattle in particular to this disease. A vaccine is available, however supply is limited.
Government training has been provided to the group in cattle management, composting, silage manufacture, zero waste concepts, and financial reporting.
Income from the cattle enterprise is a mixture of cattle sales and sale of composted cattle manure. The group’s members also rely on a number of other smaller enterprises, some for home consumption, including fruit, cocoa, goats, and poultry.
The visit to this community has revealed that unforeseen issues like the occurrence of Jembrana disease pose a great challenge to a smallholder cooperative like this one. It emphasised the need for the PalmCow team to better understand these new challenges and opportunities inherent in these systems, and use this understanding to further improve palm-cattle integration as well as livelihoods of the involved smallholder farmers.