Today we are visiting the farm near the village of Osoitsa. It is located in a beutiful area on the southern hillside of Stara Planina, in the eastern part of the Sofia valley. The farm is certified as an organic farm and purebred animals of the Montbeliard breed are bred there. Our hosts will be one of the owners – Eng. Daniel Georgiev and the veterinarian Dr. Maria Atanasova.
We arrive at time – after the morning milking. This is the small amount of free time before the daily care of the animals. The place takes your breath away with a beautiful view and green panorama! We are waiting for the veterinarian to “escape” from his busy schedule. It is she and the two brothers – Daniel and Anatoli Georgievi, who have taken care of the maintenance of both the excellent health of the animals and the order in the farm.
At first glance, the orderliness and technical base of the farm are impressive. We look forward to starting the conversation with two of the “culprits” about the good results. Dr. Maria Atanasova, a beautiful and smiling young woman, invites us to the cozy recreation area next to the horse base of the farm. While watching the view with the noble animals, one of the owners joins us.
Hello, thank you for taking the time to tell us about your wonderful farm! Please introduce yourself in a few words.
My name is Daniel Georgiev – one of the owners of the company and organic farm “Lactan”. I am 53 years old and I am a geological engineer by education. I am a graduate of the University of Mining and Geology in Sofia. My brother Anatoli and I own the farm. He is a chef by profession.
You are currently a successful cattle breeder with a modern organic farm. Tell us about the beginning.
The beginning was quite accidental. In 1998 my brother and I had a dairy, but we were not satisfied with the quality of the milk and we bought 80 animals in one village – Jersey, Holstein and brown. It turned out to be an unprofitable investment at that time and in 2006 we sold most of the animals and left only 20. We had decided to stop this activity completely! These 20 animals had to be moved somewhere and they “sheltered” us on the farm in Vrana until we sold them in a month or two. During this period we neither slept nor ate – we thought a lot and eventually realized that we did not want to give up. Agriculture and especially animal husbandry are like gambling – a disease that once you get “sick” there is no giving up!
We wanted to do organic production and started researching breeds. We read about the Montbeliard breed and under a SAPARD project we bought 33 animals from France. We chose it over Simmental because we wanted to breed a combined breed with more milk. In general, I am a big fan of the Jersey breed. We chose Montbeliard quite pragmatically, as it was the most cost-effective choice for the goals we had set for ourselves. We imported them with intermediaries, we found this place, which was a swamp outside of any civilization. We started cleaning and designing. The farm was built under measure 121.
In addition to these 33 animals, we had Montbeliard from other breeds, but even then we began to inseminate with Montbeliard seeds and gradually clear the herd of crosses. We also did backcrosses, which later turned out to be very successful animals.
How did you choose this area?
On a map with a scale of 1: 10000, with a compass with a radius of 40 km. from the restaurant “Pod lipite” on 1 Elin Pelin Street, which is our property. We started walking around and looking around. A friend showed us this place and we really liked it, as well as everyone who visits us now. The animals adapted extremely easily and had no problem except with their hooves.
How many animals do you have on the farm?
There are about 80 Montbeliards in total.
Since when have you been certified as an organic producer and is the certification process in Bulgaria difficult?
For 11 years. It wasn’t as hard then as it is now. It is more difficult to comply with all requirements and regulations related to organic production. We sell organic milk in the company “Green Farm”.
What motivates you to be certified as an organic producer?
The idea is to one day make a closed cycle of production of organic dairy products that have full traceability – from pasture to cheese on the table. We have submitted a project for a dairy and we are in the process of waiting for approval.
You have received assistance from the State for the implementation of several projects, but do you think that it is a good partner for breeders?
Who is she a good partner for ?! I have just started to do and in two weeks I will dig up the number of all employees employed in agriculture in Bulgaria, and I am sure that it will turn out that one agricultural producer in our country has 4 employees – officials. These people often say that we get a subsidy thanks to them, and I think the opposite is true – they get salaries because of us! I think that their idea and approach is generally distorted. They are probably specialists – economists, they have probably seen cows in their lives, but in principle the system is wrong and things are going in spite of it, not thanks to it.
The other thing I want to bring out exactly is the number of all (maybe about 30) requirements, regulations, norms and laws. Each institution comes to us with its 2-3 regulations, and we must know them all, monitor them and meet their requirements. Ministry of Agriculture, Health, Transport, Feed, etc. They all have thousands of requirements that we are rarely informed about. In my opinion, this is a problem of the entire European Union, not only in Bulgaria.
Maybe people there are better informed in a more accessible language.
There they are informed by birth! They grow up in an informed environment. For them, when a law is made, it is in force for 10, 20 and more years. In our country, the “Law on the ownership and use of agricultural land” is changed at least 5 times in 3 years. The “Law on Veterinary Activity” has changed, I don’t know how many times in recent years. At one point a doctor comes and asks us to observe another change, and we do not know which to do first – to write or to milk!
The change must start with the “head” – I cannot complain about the regional employees of the state. The principle and approach are initially wrong! An instruction or website should be issued annually, in which the next current changes should be published and then we should be expected to follow them. The association could also assist in this regard. In Bulgaria, everyone interprets things as they see fit, and institutions take advantage of people’s lack of time and access to information. Officials increase exponentially, some new regulations have been drafted and five have been hired to control them. They interpret them in their own way and have hired five more and so on.
I am a capitalist. The market is something that is regulated only, and with all these “new policies” one of the basic capitalist principles, namely the self-regulation of the market, is ruined. If things do not change in principle, no matter how much we grumble against the State, nothing will change. EU laws and regulations are not made for the Bulgarian cattle breeder, but for the French and German ones. They are not adapted to the Bulgarian reality.
I do not understand the meaning of someone subsidizing me with 10 cents to sell cheaper kebabs, for example. There is no need for subsidies when the market regulates its own prices!
However, you manage to grow despite the system. How do you see yourself in 5 years?
Very tired! I would never do it again, and yet I would never stop the farm. That would be my biggest grief! I hope that the dairy dairy will soon be a fact, which was the whole idea of this activity. We have been waiting for approval for 2 years, no matter that the deadline was 3 months, but I think we are on the final straight.
You and your brother run the farm together. How did you distribute your responsibilities?
Good thing he’s my brother! We complement each other a lot and argue a lot. I am more involved in plant growing, and he has taken over the farm more.
Are your children interested in this business?
None and better! This business is very difficult and looking at what this job costs Maria, I would not want my daughter to be subjected to it. We have almost achieved what we set out to do, and when we close the cycle and improve the infrastructure next to the farm, we will not undertake new projects.
What is the point of joining an association like ours?
If it is real, the meaning is great, but there is also a problem with the motivation to join. Most colleagues are members because they also need to receive a grant. Membership is sometimes misunderstood, and perhaps a lack of information prevents them from understanding it. The Bulgarian is an exceptional individualist and everyone pulls his rug towards himself. There is no way to gather 50-60 such individualists to unite around a common interest. Perhaps, if the association concentrates on protecting the individual interest of individual farms, they could show interest in the real meaning of membership in such an organization.
Thank you! It was very interesting! What advice would you give to people who are just starting out on your journey?
Don’t get caught if they haven’t checked what awaits them before! This is not a business – you have to carry it with you.
Now I turn to Dr. Maria Atanasova, who will tell us about the technology of cultivation. Dr. Atanasova, you are a young and beautiful lady, who, however, manages to cope with the responsibility for raising animals on the farm. Tell us something about yourself.
I am Dr. Maria Atanasova. I am from Varna and I am a graduate of the University of Forestry in Sofia. I graduated in 2013 and started working on the farm during my mandatory internship on the farm in Vrana. Shortly after I graduated, the farm moved here to the village of Osoitsa.
I liked the Montbeliards from the very beginning – beautiful animals, with a very good structure of the body and udder. Later, when I started working, I fell in love with them, and I think they fell in love with me! The animals on the farm are extremely spoiled – they do not hit each other, they are not called. I know everyone by name and character – they are like family to me! As a result of this attitude towards them, they grow up very meek and good!
What is the breeding technology you use?
On the farm we inseminate only artificially. We have no problems with calving. We raise the animals in free-stall barn, on a non-removable straw bed. They are grazed and have 24-hour access to a yard for walking and to an electric shepherd.
They feed in the barn on a whole mixture, which is prepared from roughage – entirely our bio-certified production. Because of the organic certification we are obliged to produce everything ourselves and not to use drugs and supplements. They have round-the-clock access to food and water and are therefore healthy and fluffy!
We perform all mandatory vaccinations under the national program and the necessary deworming. The problems with the hooves, as far as we have them, are solved by cutting. We have no other problems and diseases for joy. Although we graze them, the animals have no contact with other animals and are safe from infection.
The animals are divided into dry, lactating, pregnant heifers, adolescents for breeding, adolescent calves up to 15 months and newborns.
Due to requirements for organic production we do not use any drugs, antibiotics and chemotherapeutics. We dry directly by changing the mode and we have no problems. Milking is stopped within 5 to 7 days. Newborns are left with the mother only one day and only in summer.
Our milking hall is a “tandem” type 2 x 4. It is already a bit outdated, as it has been since the establishment of the farm. We intend to modernize it, to introduce software and transponders, because in our country, as everywhere, it is very difficult to find workers, and we want to minimize the subjective factor. The quality of our milk is very good! We maintain hygiene at an extremely high level!
What motivates a young woman to continue despite this hard work?
Only my great love for animals. These cows are very special and the fact that I came across extremely decent employers! We are really one family here and we deal with all the problems together!
Very motivating and optimistic end of the conversation! Thank you, Dr. Atanasova, it was a pleasure and I believe that you are a real inspiration for every young person. We wish to have more veterinary specialists like you – with a vocation, treating animals with great love and responsibility! We wish you luck!
It was a great pleasure to get me out of my duties for a while and I look forward to seeing you again!