Today our heroes are the Tonchevi family, who develop a farm in the village of Filipovo, Topolovgrad municipality. The village is located only three kilometers from the place where the Tundja becomes a border river with the Republic of Turkey. It is located in a hilly deforested terrain, suitable for small livestock and viticulture. From the village you can see the medieval fortress Matochina, where Kaloyan defeated the Latins and captured Baldwin.
They agreed to tell us about themselves on the way to the two-day and only vacation they could steal during the year.
Their history is extremely interesting and different from the typical Bulgarian hereditary farmer’s path. What connects construction, hospitality and dairy cows and how to learn livestock on the go will tell us now themselves.
– Hello. Introduce yourself to our audience.
– We are the Tonchevi family and we have a family farm in the village of Filipovo. I am Vasilka Toncheva, 38 years old, and my husband is Zlatomir and he is 41. We have been engaged in animal husbandry for 11 years. After Bulgaria became a member of the EU and support programs became available, we decided to apply and were among the first to be approved. Our contract was among the first signed in 2008.
– What did you do before?
– With nothing to do with this activity. My husband had a construction company and I worked in a hotel business.
– Most members of the Association are hereditary breeders and say that animal husbandry is learned throughout life… You have made an extremely bold decision without any experience in animal husbandry. How did you decide on this step?
– Indeed, neither of them has a hereditary example in animal husbandry. Our parents never raised cows and this decision was really something completely new and different for us. A real adventure!
The reason was specifically measure 112 or so. the Young Farmer measure, which enabled young entrepreneurs to receive a grant and develop their own working business plan.
Since we decided to apply, we had the opportunity to choose animal husbandry or vegetable production. We chose animal husbandry because we wanted to leave something lasting behind – something to develop over the years and achieve high results.
– What were the first animals on the farm?
– Holstein. We stopped at this breed because it was the most common. We still didn’t understand anything then, and that was a natural choice. We started with 8 animals, and the place where we built the farm was a meadow that was state property. In the beginning we had partners who owned a barn on this meadow, but in general its status was not very clear at that time. Subsequently, we bought the land and started building the farm.
– How long did it take you to turn the bare meadow into a farm?
– It looks like it’s going to be a lifetime! In a farm there is always something to optimize and build, if a person has set high goals!
– Today you are already experienced cattle breeders, but in the beginning you lacked basic knowledge. Who taught you the “alphabet” of animal husbandry? Who gave you the confidence that you can handle something that people learn all their lives?
– As I said then we had partners – a young family, in whose family they raised animals. This to some extent compensates for the lack of tissue in us and in fact we learned the first steps from them. Maybe if we weren’t with them then, we wouldn’t have the courage to decide to build a farm. After that, however, we learned everything ourselves – with a lot of effort and perseverance! There is nothing accidental – our partnership with them has influenced our path to this day.
– How did a city lady working in the hotel industry agree to take off her high shoes and put on her rubber boots?
– Yes, at that time we really had a life entirely arranged in urban conditions, but we both grew up in the countryside and this change was not difficult for us. When a person has set high goals, compromises are mandatory! When we started a family, we moved to the city, because in small settlements, caring for children is a very difficult task because it does not have the necessary conditions. There are no hospitals, kindergartens – you know what the villages have become in recent years.
When we decided to create a farm, we had to change again, but only with regard to the farm. We continue to live in the city and take care of the farm. It turned out to be something natural for us and we obviously carry it in us, because despite our lack of experience we both put a lot of desire into this adventure. You cannot become a breeder if you do not carry the love of animals in you, and we have it in abundance.
Just when we were buying the first cows, people in the squares protested against the price of milk, which was lower than that per liter of water. At the time, I thought it was a temporary situation and things could not change. It turned out, unfortunately, that there is still a way to buy milk at the same price in Bulgaria today after so many years.
– In that case, what motivates you to continue? You yourself say that nothing has changed for so many years?
– Over the years we have become convinced that if we look for change from somewhere just like that it will not come. The situation is as it is and if we have decided to develop a farm, we must succeed in all circumstances. In the beginning, our business was not working and successful and we looked for the mistake in ourselves. We analyzed what we had achieved and started looking for new opportunities.
The first thing we decided to change was the breed. This was also the reason to meet with Atanas Atanasov – the chairman of NARMS. Our meeting with him guided us in the direction of growing Simmental. Things did not happen immediately, but with the advice, with efforts in all necessary directions, the change began to become visible.
– At the moment, how many and what kind of animals do you have on the farm?
– We have 24 purebred Simmental cows and a lot of growing male and female calves. Our herd totals 85 animals at the moment. More than half are Simmental.
We bought the first Simmental bull about 8 years ago from Dr. Mustafov from the village of Konush, who is also a member of the Association. But, apart from a bull, we also breed animals artificially. We also bought heifers, because with the bulls the cleaning of the herd is very slow. We bought them from the village of Borima and from the village of Lobosh.
– What are the advantages of Simmental in your opinion?
– Here my husband can tell in detail.
– Hello from me. The only advantage of Holstein is the higher amount of milk. For quality, the comparison is inappropriate. Simmentals are great animals. Holstein is a very unsuitable breed for our climate, but the crosses between the two breeds turned out to be very good – such as bone system, ease of calving, milk quality, etc. The heifers we bought from Borima and Lobosh were already purebred and completely different from Holstein. I am very pleased with the choice of breed we made. Definitely worth it for both milk and fattening.
– How do you realize your production? Are you happy with the price?
– We have a correct partner for 10 years. We do not have much choice due to the remoteness of the area. The price is of course low, but such are the conditions in Bulgaria. Since we moved to Simmental, male calves are in great demand and at a much better price.
– What cultivation technology have you chosen? Do you breed both breeds equally?
– Yes, we raise them equally, free-boxing. We feed the animals individually according to age and lactation. We milk them on a central milk line. We are currently in a period of relocation of the base itself, and in the new one we plan to build a milking parlor.
The current farm is limited in terms of the number of cows and it is not possible to keep more than 40. We have chosen a very nice farm in the neighboring village, where we will have the opportunity to build a more modern farm with a milking parlor and more capacity for to increase the number of animals kept. The built-up area in the new farm is 1 decare and I hope we will be able to fill it only with healthy and productive Simmental animals.
– Are there any facilities built there? Will you start again from nothing?
– Yes, but this time with a lesson from the mistakes made over the years. The milking parlor is mandatory, as well as all the necessary conditions for comfort in raising animals. We will invest the impossible and the impossible, but still things are either done properly or there is no point in doing it at all. In time, I invite you to visit us again so that together we can take stock of whether the efforts made have paid off. We deeply believe that if a person is fully committed to the goal and gives the best of himself, the change will be positive!
– We thank you for the invitation! We will definitely visit you! What type of milking parlor did you choose?
– 2 by 5 we decided to be, but more details when it’s ready!
– You are obviously very brave! You risk and change your life 180 degrees without even having experience and an idea of what you are going to do. Now you are embarking on a new adventure to relocate the farm. How do you plan to cope – with state aid or on loans and your own “muscles”?
– We have decided not to rely on state aid anymore. Indeed, it is thanks to such support that we set up the farm, but the way the programs work with all the bureaucratic commitments, costs and inspections is much more difficult and binding than just buying and paying for what you need.
– You don’t seem to be dealing with the State at all?
– No, we don’t want to at all.
– Do you believe that something will change?
– It is very difficult for me to answer the question. I want to believe, but you know how complicated things are. We have decided to give our best regardless of the conditions. We have given ourselves a period of 5 years during which to give ourselves a chance to succeed, but now in the right way and with the necessary experience. It is easiest to stop – we have considered stopping this activity and we have commented on it in the family. The next 5 years are the last chance. We will check what will happen after we move the animals to the new equipped farm and work for a while. We believe that things will happen differently this time.
– How do you get along with the state institutions or do they just wave a finger at you with another inspection?
– It would be normal when a person is honest and works the production to cover his expenses and get adequate profit. In Bulgaria, however, in theory, the measures and conditions are designed to help farmers, but in practice are not working. We do not want to ask for help and subsidies, but to provide us with normal conditions to operate. It is a very wrong practice to distribute land to people who do not actually own animals, but claim it with the status of meadows and pastures. In practice, these areas are not grazed, and farmers at the same time are exhausted, as they do not have areas for growing fodder and grazing.
– Do you produce the animal feed yourself?
– No, we buy everything except corn silage and meadow hay.
– After years of experience, what turned out to be the most important in animal husbandry?
– Nutrition and individual approach. We bought a mixer and after many consultations with nutritionists over time we learned how to provide each animal with the necessary at the time. Adolescents, dairy and dry animals cannot be fed equally.
– How do you inseminate at the moment?
– We inseminate artificially by having a bull, which we use only as a corrector. The difference between natural and artificial insemination is huge. There is nothing more important than genetics. We bought our bull for correction from our colleagues from Boeritsa – the Gichevi brothers. Great animal and we are extremely happy!
However, artificial insemination offers completely different possibilities and is the only way to permanently improve the herd.
– It seems you, because you are not hereditary cattle breeders, you do things exactly according to the textbook! What dissuaded you from giving up so far?
– The Simmental breed – we both fell in love with it and want to create a purebred herd to be raised on a modern farm with rational technology. We believe that this is the way!
– I admire your courage, stubbornness and diligence! What will you wish to the colleagues from the Association?
– Good luck and health – for them and their animals! More faith and do not give up. Let’s be united and help each other!
– I hope your positive attitude reaches them! We will wait for the invitation when the new farm is ready. Be healthy!
– It was very nice and we will be waiting for you again!