We are on the road again and our final destination this time is the village of Kozlets, Haskovo region. There, for more than a decade, Raim Yumer and Axel Smail have been breeding purebred Simmental on their farm. For many years, Raim followed the hard path of the emigrant to ensure a normal life for his family. Apart from his great love for his wife and family, Raim has had another great passion since childhood – that of animals.
It was she who brought him back to Bulgaria and today, together with Axel, they are completely dedicated to the daily life of the breeders – hard, without a break, but according to them it is worth it. Today, Axel, who has been inseparable from her husband in every endeavor, tells us about the road from Germany to Kozlets and the hardships in the Bulgarian reality.
– Hello, well welded! Please tell us about yourself in a few words.
– My name is Axel Smail, 45 years old from Haskovo. My husband, Raim, and I have been involved in cattle breeding for 15 years, and I was actively involved in the activity before 10. Before that I was involved in raising our two children and after they grew up I had the opportunity to actively help on the farm.
Before building the farm, my husband worked abroad like many other Bulgarians who traveled to provide a better life for their family. He came up with the idea for the farm because he inherited his love of animals from his father, who once raised sheep. I, on the other hand, did not have much desire, because until then I had not had any contact with animals. I grew up in the city and it was very foreign to me.
Initially, animal husbandry was an additional income for Raim, and the main help he received was from his father. During his travels in the West, he had become very passionate about the Simmental breed, and on one of his returns he bought four small female calves from a farm, which his father looked after. They have become great animals and this makes him even more ambitious to take this seriously. Gradually, out of four, he became eight, ten, and jokingly, the farm became his main occupation. Not all the animals he bought were purebred Simmentals, but since he only inseminated them artificially, the herd gradually cleared completely.
– How many and what animals do you have at the moment?
– Over sixty.
– Is this your first farm?
– No, we were originally in another barn. When my husband returned from abroad, it was already clear that the farm would not be, by the way. He has serious ambitions to increase the number of animals, because with 10 cows there is no way to support a family. We sold our apartment in the town of Haskovo and built a brand new barn in the native village of Raim.
Just then, however, came that insane ordinance that no more than 10 animals can be kept in a settlement. You can imagine what a blow this was for us after we had invested everything we had in the barn. We had built it out of nothing in the backyard of the house – a new construction, a new roof and we spent only a year there. There was no way to sell it and we had to start literally from scratch. It was at this moment that the stables in which we are currently located in the village of Kozlets were put up for sale. They were former cooperative buildings. Apparently there is nothing accidental. We bought this barn with the little money we had left and let’s go again out of nowhere.
The building was in a deplorable condition and it was easier to rebuild than to renovate. Like everything else from communism, this was brought to utter ruin, but if we had to legitimize some other remote terrain, it would be impossible for us. According to documents only, there was an agricultural building, but in fact it was a ruin. It started again with repairs, roofs, construction… all over again, until we make the barn as decent as possible for raising animals.
– Aren’t you tired of it? Have you not tried to dissuade Raim from this endeavor?
– It has been written to me many times. Sometimes every day, but we are a family and I have to follow the path that my husband has chosen for us and support it. While watching the children, I hardly came to the farm, but when Raim’s father died, he was left completely alone and unable to cope. Then I really got actively involved. I do not deny that it was a big shock for me at first. I grew up in the city and there were never any animals in my family. I never imagined that I would deal with this. I traveled every day when the children were small. They are now adults and my eldest daughter recently even graduated as a Zooengineer. Until recently, we thought that she would be involved in the production. However, young people do not want to get involved in animal husbandry at all. She has witnessed what this has cost us over the years and at the moment her interests are in another direction. Both of our girls come, enjoy the animals, but that’s it.
– When did you break up? When did you first milk a cow?
– It didn’t happen all of a sudden. I got used to it gradually, but a person who has no choice finds a way. At first we milked them by hand, but as we increased the number of cows we bought units and got used to working with them. At the moment we are still on tires, but we plan to build a central milk pipeline. We also want to build a shed for free-range animals, as they are now permanently tethered.
– For these 15 years where did you go wrong? What would you not repeat?
– I hope it doesn’t sound boastful, but nowhere. It was really difficult, but I believe we did the right thing by not giving up. Over the years, I realized that no matter how difficult it is, animal husbandry gives you the freedom to depend on yourself and leave something meaningful behind. In this work you see the results of your efforts over time and this brings great satisfaction!
We were abroad, we tried there too. Even my daughter was born in Germany and we had the opportunity to stay permanently. The times were different. There was no such influx of migrants, and there was a lot of work, and it was well paid. However, the stone weighs in its place and one must be where one was born to feel complete.
I remember how, when I was nine months pregnant in Germany, Raim took me around the farms and looked after the animals. Because my doctors had recommended movement, instead of going to cafes and shops, we went around the farms. I didn’t think then that one day this would be our livelihood.
– But now you seem to be even more engaged than Raim?
– Yes, I think things have changed. Over the years, I really took both the farm and the animals to heart. Sometimes his work comes in handy, and we are just the two of us – no one helps us, but there can be no giving up anymore. Honestly, I don’t want to hire workers, especially for milking. I love my animals, I want them to show attention and care. I don’t want to be ruined by strangers and irresponsible people. In recent years, I have paid more attention to them than to children.- Since when have you not gone on vacation?
– For over 10 years, but maybe without it. There is no way I can leave my farm for a week and when someone comes back it has ruined everything we have created with so much effort. Workers cannot be trusted – we are convinced of that. There’s no point in taking someone to just pick up the number and wait for the day to end to leave. Most are very irresponsible and do not work at all, regardless of the conditions you offer them. They still have a lot of work and little money. I prefer to do everything myself and know that it was done right!
– Now, if you have to work something else for someone else from 9.00 to 18.00, will you be able to?
– No, it’s absurd. As difficult as it is, watching animals is like scabies – once you start, there is no giving up!
– Do Bulgarians respect the work of farmers?
– Not at all. Once we started receiving subsidies, maybe the attitude changed slightly. But not because of the work we put in, but because of the money. Like everything in Bulgaria, only this obviously matters. Previously, if a breeder – registered and working, went to a bank to apply for a loan, his refusal was guaranteed. Now almost every day we get calls from different banks to offer us loans. We breeders always need money. Animals are like children – they have to eat, if there is a sick you have to call a doctor and every day they have to be healthy and cared for. I don’t think anyone really appreciates the work we do and everything we give up.
– For other support outside the subsidies, under any program, did you think to apply?
– Years ago I had serious ambitions, but when I got acquainted with all the bureaucracy and insane demands we gave up. We are not accountants and administrators. It’s all business – it’s made up for the rich to get richer on the backs of those who really work.
– Do you feel the state as your support and support?
– No, definitely! I do not complain, but our work is certainly not respected, and we really only give to the State. We do not use holidays, sick leave and benefits, but we pay everything properly and on time. They are watching us closely and if they only have a reason, they will not hesitate to impose sanctions. Even subsidies tax us. Thanks to the Internet, we are able to follow what is happening in the world and we know that in many countries subsidies are not taxed. There is nothing to say about the price of milk – it has been stuck in one place for years. In the summer it regularly falls for nothing, and the price of fodder is getting higher.- You have been a member of NARMS since 2015. Why didn’t you seek assistance from the Association at the very beginning?
– Indeed, we are members relatively recently, as we met Mr. Atanasov by chance alongside our mutual acquaintance – Mitko Pachev from Kardzhali. Until now, not only us, but also no one in the region was a member of the Association. Even colleagues with larger farms.
– What motivates you for this membership? Was the subsidy the main reason?
– I can not say that this was not the leading reason for this decision, but over time it turned out that the help we receive in many other areas is extremely important! We are already seeing the first results of the quality seed material that NARMS provides us and the difference is noticeable. Previously, our inseminator also inseminated with Simmental, but no one knew what quality or origin. However, the results are really very different now and I can say that we now understand how important quality seed material is. Animals are incomparable both in development and production.
We had never heard of an accidental plan and just wanted to clear the herd. Now, with the help of Maria, our regional associate, we are following the instructions very carefully. She is very strict in her work and gives us full cooperation. In addition to seeds and administrative assistance, we receive assistance and information whenever we need it.
– What is the difference in production for the last 5 years.
– Crossbreeds cannot be compared to purebred animals. The production is really very high quality, but not only the selection but also the proper nutrition contributed to that. Like many other colleagues, years ago we underestimated it and did not understand that it is a key criterion for good production and animal health. We do not have the opportunity to use consultants and recipes for meals. We produce our own feed. We grow alfalfa and peas on our own lands or rented and we try to provide the animals with the most balanced ration. We have separated the adolescents from the dairy cows and we strive to provide the necessary individually for each animal. We still do not have the opportunity to separate the dry ones. With practice we learned how to feed animals properly and for now we have found a balance in this regard. There is probably more to be desired, but with time and experience, the mistakes are cleared up.
– How do you see yourself in 5 years?
– For now, our goal is, as I said – a central milk pipeline and a shed for free breeding. Then we will think about it. In a farm there is always something to fix and optimize, but everything with time. To be healthy, to support each other, to work and gradually everything will happen.
– What will you wish to your colleagues in the Association?
– To be healthy, to be united and not to give up! It’s hard – even impossible, but it’s worth it! What we do is meaningful and deserves respect and we should be proud of our work! Greetings to all!