Simmental cows graze in a pasture on Olivér Máthé’s farm. Máthé prefers using German Simmental genetics because of its dual purpose for both meat quality and milking ability.
Simmental cows graze in a pasture on Olivér Máthé’s farm. Máthé prefers using German Simmental genetics because of its dual purpose for both meat quality and milking ability. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    MERENI, Transylvania, Romania – Olivér Máthé’s dairy farm has been in his family for hundreds of years. Máthé, in fact, has lived his entire life in the village and is the third generation of his family to milk cows. And, at the root of his family’s farm are the very things that make the operation tick – his family and the animals.
    Máthé and his wife, Erzsébet, and their daughter, Anita, 13, milk 18 Simmental cows on their farm in Mereni, a commune in Covasna County of Transylvania, Romania.
    The farm consists of 28 cows, 100 sheep, 40 chickens, eight goats, seven dogs, rabbits, pigs and cats. The Máthés own 30 acres and rent 30 acres as well on which they grow all the feed for their cattle. Máthé does all the milking and hires occasional seasonal help. Erzsébet handles the household chores, manages the garden and helps on the farm.
    The herd is milked with a basic milking machine and by hand.
    “The younger ones or the ones that don’t accept the machine are hand milked,” Máthé said.
    Máthé wakes at 5 and cleans manure away before beginning to milk.
    During this time, the cows are also fed corn, wheat, barley, alfalfa and hay. The herd is pastured during the summer.
    Mid-morning, Máthé transports his family’s milk to the village milk tank, where he stays until 11 a.m. to upkeep the tank and manage the intake of milk. After his work at the collection tank, Máthé travels home for breakfast.
    “The owners collect all the milk and sell it as an association to a cooperative that is made up of 12 associations in the area plus private families which sell to another cooperative,” Máthé said. “The village association is planning to build a milk plant where the cooperative can process the milk they collect instead of having to sell to the other cooperative.”
    Máthé is in charge of the fundraising campaign for this project, which needs an additional approximate $110,000 to meet the 300,000 euros benchmark to obtain a 2.2 million euros grant from the European Union.
    Various chores ensue before a break around 3 p.m. for lunch with his daughter. The cows come home from pasture in the evening around sunset and are fed and milked again. Supper follows around 8:30 p.m.
    Máthé is the village association’s president and the cooperative’s vice president. He said a concern for the dairy industry in Romania is the importing of milk from Poland and Hungary. The incoming milk is making the small village cooperative model obsolete, causing the price of milk to drop and the number of buyers to be scarce.
    “Many villagers will buy milk from other families in the village,” Máthé said. “That’s what we do, too. The milk is so much better than from the store.”
    Máthé said there are 36 milking families in the village. The farms with only a few cows milk by hand while the others use machines. Máthé currently milks the most cows. Having a handful of milking cows is common. Máthé said the average herd size in his area is around 30 cows.
    In Romania, Máthé said the industry’s approach to dairy is a unique factor compared to the vast majority of the world’s dairy sector.
    “(Our dairy industry) is 100 years behind the rest of the world,” he said.
    Máthé said he prefers to use German Simmental genetics and favors the breed for its dual purpose of both meat quality and milking ability. The milk produced on Máthés’ farm is used for cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, milk, buttermilk and cottage cheese, among others.
    The area in which Máthé lives is a plateau and mountain region with winter temperatures ranging between -13 degrees and 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Summertime temperatures can reach as high as 95 degrees; however, being the area is mountainous, Máthé said temperatures always cool off in the evening.
    “Temperatures can swing 30 degrees Celsius daily,” he said. “The mountain climate and terrain are not conducive to higher milk producing cows whose legs are weaker and whose bodies have trouble adapting to the large swing in temperatures.”
    Common crops for the region are corn, potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, onions, carrots and cabbage. Máthé said many dairy producers purchase second-hand milking machines, most being Polish models.
    “People would prefer German brands, but they tend to be more expensive,” Máthé said. “When repairs are necessary, the owner is generally the one that will repair it. The government helps some but very little. They give money for having land that is worked. The government also gives money for keeping cows.”
    The government allots $150 to $230 per 2.5 acres per year and $83 per cow per year.
    “(Dairy farming) is in my blood,” Máthé said. “It’s a way of life.”