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Today we are in the village of Zlatovrah to meet and talk with Plamena Kurteva – a charming young lady who in her fragile years manages one of the most modern farms in the ranks of NARMS.

The village is located in the municipality of Asenovgrad and extends over a flat relief, with the exception of the small hill “Hisarlaka”. It is surrounded by fertile fields, pastures, meadows, vineyards and orchards. Around the village there are many fountains, springs and wells with clear water. The livelihood of the local population has long been associated with agriculture – viticulture and fruit growing, as well as animal husbandry.

The village has a rich history and we can not fail to mention the fact that in the immediate vicinity is the famous Arapovski Monastery “Holy Sunday”. It was founded in 1856 and is one of the few Polish monasteries built during the Turkish rule. In those years he was often visited by Levski’s associates and participants in the Hajduk movement.

– Hello, Plamena. Tell us about yourself and the successful business you run.

– My name is Plamena Kurteva and I have been managing the site in the village of Zlatovrah for 7 years now. I am a former athlete – a tennis player, thanks to which I had the opportunity to travel to many countries in Europe and the United States. My tennis career ended relatively early, because it was thanks to him that I received a sports scholarship and continued my education in the United States. It was very difficult for me to choose a specialty, because my first wish was the specialty “Veterinary Medicine”, but the training in it was for a very long period of time and in the end I settled on “Agroeconomics”. The training normally lasts 5 years, but I managed to finish in 3 and a half. I decided it was time to return to Europe as my first professional step in cattle breeding was not on the family farm, but on a very large Hungarian farm – with 2000 dairy cows and 1500-1600 repair animals. As a first job, it was extremely engaging. I had the opportunity to do research on the European market, and the time I spent in the feed factory gave me the opportunity to learn to qualify the feed, which is extremely useful for me at the moment! I never dreamed of having such a useful start as the one in this cow farm – the volume of work was huge, and I worked under the guidance of a specialist with over 20 years of experience in the field. Nothing teaches as well as practice and competent example, and in this Hungarian economy both were in abundance and this was a great opportunity for me! My supervisor was happy to share his experience and knowledge with me, for which I am very grateful!

            Then I decided to return to Bulgaria. During the first 2 years I had to get to know Bulgaria again, because in 10 years many things had changed, and many were different with what I received as an example abroad.

– Are you a hereditary cattle breeder?

– In fact, in my family, the experience I have inherited is more in the production of dairy products. More than 30 years ago, my parents set up the company in Zabardo. Subsequently, they began to engage in cattle breeding to produce raw materials for the needs of the dairy. They started with a small farm in the village of Cheshnegirovo and then bought part of the farm in the village of Zlatovrah. They mainly raised black-and-white animals, and later bought Montbeliards to improve the quality of the milk.

– Very few people like you have had the opportunity to take their first steps in education and practice in countries that are an example for us in the field of cattle breeding. What are the most obvious differences in reality?

– The differences, if we compare ours and the farm where I worked in Hungary, are many and great. In the first place, there was almost industrial activity on a huge scale, and our farm can rather be categorized as medium. It is impossible to compare the volume of work. What, in my opinion, differs from the first reading is that there the observations on raw materials, food, complete mixtures were very accurate. Each new crop was studied and analyzed. The results were used in a timely manner to correct the recipes prepared by specialists for optimal proper nutrition of animals. Blood tests on the animals were something regular. In recent years, there has been some progress in Bulgaria in these areas, but we are still far from the level that other countries have reached years ago. Until a few years ago, this control over the content of rations was a commitment that both the companies we work with and farmers have until recently underestimated the importance of a complete and balanced content of animal rations.

In terms of animal selection and care, I don’t think we are that different.

– Were you able to “import” useful practices for Bulgarian cattle breeding, which you learned or were not applicable in Bulgaria?

– At first they were really inapplicable. Over time, step by step, some of these practices have become fully integrated and have become a solid foundation for success.

One of the major steps was to pay attention to the monitoring and analysis of raw materials, which significantly optimized the general condition and production of animals. Nutrition is very important.

The other things we had to improve were the conditions for keeping the animals, as well as the working conditions. On the farm in Hungary, the processes were highly mechanized and this greatly facilitated the work and provided much better comfort for the animals. That is why we are currently implementing a very serious reconstruction, as the project was prepared by Italian specialists. We hope to achieve such mechanization in 2020 and here.

– How many and what animals do you keep on the farm at the moment?

– The total number of animals is 800, of which 700 are black-spotted and 100 are of the Montbeliard breed. The two breeds are completely different and incomparable to me. They have their advantages and disadvantages. Montbeliards are much more resilient animals – they rarely have a problem, but if they do, it is often severe and even unsolvable. Black-and-white animals are the complete opposite in this respect – they are more likely to have problems, but there is an opportunity to help them more easily. In terms of milk yield – black and white have a higher milk yield, but the Montbeliards contribute to the good quality of the production. We have very good indicators of fat and protein. Our fat content does not fall below 4%, and the protein reaches 3.3-3.4%. I think that both breeds contribute to the success and quality of production on the farm and dairy.

– Is state control reciprocal to the aid you receive?

– I think that control bodies are mandatory in all proceedings. We try to meet all the requirements in terms of database, sampling, availability and to do our job on time and properly. More frequent and in-depth inspections, in my opinion, are positive for the development of the industry, as long as they are competent.

– Did you manage to build the farm on time with your own funds or did you receive funding?

– We also have European funding, which was only a small part of the necessary investment. We have mainly relied on our own funds and bank lending, as in our current project. We are realizing it without any state aid.

– Congratulations on your courage! What does this project involve?

– Reconstruction of three old stables and an old hall, as well as construction of four new halls, which are almost ready. The groups of adolescent, dry and pregnant heifers will be placed in them first. The next hall will be for over 200 dairy cows. The cleaning will be fully mechanized with scrapers. The cows will be on mattresses. We also plan to build a new milking parlor, but at a later stage. I don’t know if this sequence is correct – first mechanization and then a milking parlor, but the farms in the western countries of the rank of our farm are massively robotized and this is a top priority.

– This will inevitably solve many problems with finding a job. In this regard, do you have difficulties in recruiting?

I cannot say that this issue is on our agenda at the moment, but it is certainly not easy.

– Since when have you been a member of the Association? I know that you are the initiator of this cooperation. What motivates you outside the context of the subsidy, which is leading for some farmers?

– Since 2012. When we started our cooperation with NARMS there was no support for selection control, ie. the first incentive for membership was certainly not support. At that time, the aid received in recent years was not even planned. Then the goal was for us to take advantage of the preparation of random plans, guaranteed import of proven bulls and administrative assistance.

– Did this cooperation meet your expectations? Do you feel an improvement in the characteristics of animals in the next generations?

– Yes, completely cover them – milk samples are taken regularly, a random plan is followed and we receive the necessary assistance. With regard to the new generations, we strive to develop the advantages of the breed. If there are shortcomings, we hold meetings and consultations with the Association in order to take the necessary measures. We are now in such a moment, as we have accumulated some shortcomings and we hope that this will be corrected in the next generations.

– What motivates a young and beautiful woman to voluntarily take responsibility for an activity for which there is no day off or working hours?

– Our family goal is only one and I fully share it – to produce a quality product and to support the complete nutrition of people – not with imitation, but with real dairy products! Eat healthy! The fact that we produce a product “from the ground to the table” has motivated me to continue even in the most difficult moments, because it makes sense, not only for our business, but in public. For several generations, our cheeses and yellow cheeses have been valued, and I want this to continue. It’s worth it for me and I will continue to fight for it!

– This is a strong inspiration, we wish you from the bottom of your heart to preserve this energy and ambition, and to “infect” everyone around you with it. We reserve the right to visit the farm again when the project is completed.

– I will be waiting for you with pleasure!