Calves at the Hungarian dairy are housed in hutches until weaned.PHOTO SUBMITTED
Calves at the Hungarian dairy are housed in hutches until weaned.
KAZSOK, Somogy, Hungary - Prior to the 1960s, dairy farmers in Hungary faced many challenges in producing milk. However, with advanced genetics, an open border to market exports, and a drive to succeed, the Hungarian industry is well developed with potential growth.
Gábor Bakos saw the industry's capabilities and is now a leading dairy farm manager at one of the country's largest dairy farms - Bos-Frucht Cooperative.
"There are only five other dairy operations in our region. All of them are much smaller than ours," Bakos said. "One of the neighboring farms has a similar design of barns and parlor, while the others are older."
Bakos manages the 2,800-cow dairy near the village of Kazsok in Somogy, Hungary, where he oversees the dairy, specifically in terms of breeding and strategic planning for the future.
A Hungarian family purchased the farmland and site to form Bos-Frucht Cooperative in 1992. They now act as investors of the business, while hiring individuals, such as Bakos, to make daily decisions for the dairy.
"They are not farmers by profession. They set the frames and manage the business from the financial side of things," said Bakos, who is also a shareholder in the dairy.
While there are few other farms similar to Bos-Frucht Cooperative's size and structure, the average herd size in Hungary is nearly 400 milking cows, one of the largest average herd sizes in the world, according to Bakos.
In the United States, the average herd size in 2016 was 223 cows, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
The push to milk more cows came in the late '60s and early '70s, when Hungary revitalized its dairy industry, particularly within the Holstein breed. The country imported thousands of breeding heifers and live breeding bulls, in addition to 1 million doses of semen, from the United States.
"Holstein breeding has unique features in Hungary. That was a basement for changing the original dual-purpose breed in order to meet the milk production and milk product demand of the citizens," Bakos said.
Previously, most production came from the Hungarian Simmental.
Soon after the initial import, Hungary received dairy genetics from Canada and Western Europe, as well.
"The Hungarian Holstein Association started the national breeding program and the production and type traits started to show an impressive trend," Bakos said. "In the last three decades the population doubled its production level and is now past the national 22,720-pound average."
Bakos' herd is milked three times a day - at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. - in a 72-stall rotary parlor.
The farm has two sites for housing cattle - one site has 2,000 cattle, while the other is home to the remaining 800 cows. Cows are housed in four two-row freestall barns and bedded with compost materials, while calves are in individual hutches until weaned.
The barns and parlor were built in 2012.
Together with other area-specific managers, Bakos spends each day monitoring the two farm sites.
"On weekends, only one of us in charge all day long," Bakos said. "We establish protocols and guide the processes on the farm so that we have enough time to ourselves and for our families."
Employee satisfaction is of top priority for Bakos and his managers for the success of the dairy.
"We run team building programs on the farm and within the community to create a good team of people who can work efficiently together," Bakos said.
In addition to milking cows, the dairy farm also runs land to grow corn, wheat, alfalfa, barley, sunflower and canola amongst the rolling hills of Kazsok. Bakos' location is only 80 miles from the Croatian border and is amidst a continental climate of hot and dry summers and cold winters.
"With our temperatures and moderate rainfall, we are able to produce our own forages, such as corn, alfalfa and ryegrass silages and hay, and corn. But, we do have to buy the concentrates," said Bakos, whose land is mostly rented from smaller landowners.
Bakos also makes sure to breed for progressive traits, such as udder and feet and legs, with a high net merit, to compliment the ration for the herd to produce a high quality milk designed as a good base for any dairy product.
"Our focus is to run this operation successfully and profitably. That means we breed for commercial milk production, but we do have some nice cows for showing," Bakos said. "In 2015, we won the grand champion title during the National Agriculture and Food Exhibition."
After the end of the European Milk Quota System, the dairy markets are on the small upswing for Hungarian dairy farmers. Although the price varies on production and components, Bakos estimated the national average price is $13-14 per hundredweight.
To further capitalize on the market, Bakos and his team have plans to increase milk production based on the outcome of changes to the European farm subsidy system.
"We will probably be farming without EU subsidies, but that's an advantage for us because the level of subsidies is lower than our Western European competitors," Bakos said.
Additionally, the location of Hungary to other dairy sectors creates an opportunity for genetic exports.
"We can sell breeding stock to Eastern Europe and to the Middle East and even to North Africa," Bakos said.
As Bakos looks towards the future of Bos-Frucht Cooperative, he is mindful of the growing pressure from animal welfare activists and the lack of educated workers who understand dairy. However, he is hopeful the industry will continue in the right direction with the persistence of all dairy farmers.
"Wherever you come from, dairy farming is not just a job, it's a lifestyle," Bakos said. "I like every second that I spend with my cows on the farm."