Today’s meeting is with the owner of the farm in the village of Gabene, Gabrovo – Raim Ahmedov and the veterinarian Dr. Hristiana Nikolova.
Over a cup of coffee in Gabrovo, they were kind enough to tell us about the farm and the path they took together as a close-knit team to create a successful business with excellent results.
What is behind this success, let’s find out now from them.
– Hello, if you can both introduce yourself in a few words.
– Hello, I am Raim Ahmedov and I am the owner of Ecobul, which owns the farm in the village of Gabene. I am 55 years old, married and have two children.
– Hello from me. I am Dr. Hristiana Nikolova and I am the service veterinarian on the farm.
– Raim, how did you start cattle breeding? Are you a hereditary breeder or are the reasons different?
Raim: Actually, it all started as a hobby – with 30 animals.
– With 30 animals – a serious hobby!
Raim: Yes, later in 2011 we applied for a project and so the hobby became the main activity. The farm has existed since 2008 and was supposed to be a joke, and today we have 360 animals. Until then, we were involved in buying milk from other farms and distributing it to processors. So we “got infected” and decided that we could produce it ourselves.
– What breed did you start with?
Raim: With Simmental. We imported 30 wonderful animals from Austria. Subsequently, in order to increase the production, we started inseminating with bulls of the Montbeliard breed. We bought an additional 30 heifers from France and also Holstein from Germany.
– How do you compare the breeds?
Raim: Holstein has an advantage in the quantity of milk, but in quality it is quite inferior to Montbeliard.
– How many Montbeliards do you have at the moment?
Christiana: About 80 cows and heifers, we also have females, which we leave for repairs.
– Why did you switch to the Simmental breed in the beginning and then change it to Montbeliard?
Raim: The market. The breed has indisputable qualities, but because we were looking for more milk we made this change.
– You speak in the first person plural, ie. “We”. Do you have partners?Raim: I do have a partner, but I actually speak on behalf of my team. My partner is not active in the activity. I have a wonderful team behind me of young people – hardworking, responsible and very enthusiastic. They are the driving force in the farm!
– In this ubiquitous personnel crisis, you are very lucky! How many people do you have on your team?
Raim: We are a total of 4 people in the management team and 15 workers.
– These people, on whom you rely so much, have obviously been working for you for a long time.
Raim: It can be said that they are the founders of the farm and we have been working together since its establishment. I am talking about Dr. Hristiana Nikolova and her husband, who have been taking care of the farm for almost 10 years.
– How do you manage to motivate these young people to do this and keep their enthusiasm?
Raim: In fact, they manage to motivate me! We infect each other with energy. In addition to Dr. Nikolova and her husband, my eldest son also actively helps with the farm. We have created a family on the farm, which I am very proud of!
– Let’s talk about your chosen technology of animal husbandry… In Bulgaria until recently, nutrition and living conditions were seriously underestimated. However, I know that your level is such that you can easily compete with your colleagues in France. How did you organize the farm?
Raim: We grow them freely – boxing. Gradually we found the right path. Dr. Nikolova is involved in nutrition, and her husband is involved in reproduction. My son has completely taken over agriculture. We have completely closed the cycle and produce the animal feed ourselves. We work with nutrition consultants and when necessary, we adjust according to the individual needs of the animals.
Christiana: We have a herringbone milking parlor, 2 x 10. The manufacturer is Sezer and although we have remarks, we are satisfied with their services.
Raim: We plan to build a new barn with a milking parlor in 2 years. We bought a plot of land and now we are starting the design.
– Will you move the animals or increase their number?
Christiana: Both! They reproduce and progressively increase as a herd.
Raim: Our reproduction is very good! The animals we have now are better than the ones we imported in the past. Our region is mountainous and is very suitable for this breed.
– What was on the site of the current farm?
Raim: Old buildings left over from the former cooperative farm. We bought them and did a reconstruction, but it didn’t turn out quite the way we wanted. In the west, the stables are much more functional and we are striving for this level.
– At the moment, how do you realize your production?
Raim: We have no problem with that. We work very well with the dairy we have chosen. Quality and high hygiene provide us with a better price.
– Do you plan to one day become independent and process your own products?
Raim: This may be the next step, but only after we build the barn.
– Raim, what is it like to be on the other side? You used to be on the side of those who were protested by farmers at the time – milk dealers.
Raim: I understand my colleagues then and now. Prices are really low. With us, I repeat, the quality of the milk and the high hygiene turn the production into a sought-after and well-paid product. I think we should all strive for that.
– How do you feel about the country over the years – as a partner or as a supervisor? Does he wave a finger at you for the slightest transgression?
Christiana: Yes, definitely! The most recent example is related to animal welfare. The slightest mistake on our part receives a sure sanction! The mistake wasn’t even ours, but it didn’t matter to them.
– In your opinion, is there such a tendency for the inspections to be most frequent for those that are strict and precise in fulfilling the requirements? Where animals are kept without basic conditions, they do not seem to be so common?
Christiana: Yes, that is 100% true, unfortunately.
Raim: I also think that this is true and I have personally asked this question many times. There is no year in which all instances do not line up to go through the farm. Sometimes they repeat it. Their explanation, I quote, is that they know that when they come to us, everything will be fine and they will not have unnecessary headaches. For their personal comfort – they will not have to write prescriptions and then have to come again to check if they are followed.They look for a calf under the ox and look into the smallest details. However, we are very strict in every way and we do not give them reasons for “headaches”.
– Did you build the farm with your own funds?
Raim: We applied for a project to modernize the farm and we can say that we were “fucked” by the State. This happened in 2011. The refinancing had to be in the amount of 85%. We applied with a project for one million and six hundred thousand levs, half of which were for the reconstruction and modernization of the farm and we were approved.
However, we failed to sign a contract in 2011 and they left us for the next one. We were assured that we would still remain under the same conditions. In August 2012, they called us and told us literally, “Here we have BGN 1,200,000 left over from the small farms. If you want, take them, if there are no others waiting for them. We really had no choice, as we had to pay the consultants over 138 thousand, as the project was still approved. We were forced to sign this contract even though the conditions were changed and the refinancing for reconstruction and modernization fell to 30%. In the end, everything was given to us by about 30%, and our estimates and expectations were for 75% !? However, we managed to complete the project. We were flawless!
– Did this refuse you to seek help or have you applied for other programs over the years?
Raim: Of course we did not apply. That denied us forever!
– This is how our dear country motivates Bulgarian farmers to deal with the difficulties on their own!
– Yes unfortunately.
– Are the inspectors who visit you competent, as there are different legends in this regard?
Christiana: Some are definitely not! Especially when they are from Sofia. I am not very pleased that I have to give explanations for elementary things about which they lack knowledge and it is even insulting to check us such people.
– Raim, you are witnessing democratic changes. Do they give you hope for a brighter future?
– No, I do not believe that anything will change soon! It is up to us to be healthy, united and work to survive in this reality. This is the situation!
– Dr. Nikolova, what is the most important thing in animal nutrition?
Christiana: The balance in every respect is the most important and of course taking into account the ration with the individual needs of the animals. Eating is not recommended. I advise colleagues to get the highest quality roughage possible!
For adolescents, the start is especially important – to take the required amount of colostrum in time and then use a properly quality milk replacer, and not one with palm oil and other similar ingredients. We work with Alltech Bulgaria and I definitely recommend them for their complete solutions.
– What do you consider a mistake during the years of development of the farm?
Raim: First of all, that we bought animals from Bulgaria!
Christiana: The main mistake of the imported animals was that we put them in a barn with a concrete floor, and they were raised in a meadow and you can imagine what happened to their hooves and their legs in general. We lost many of them unfortunately! That was a big mistake then.
– Dr. Nikolova, what motivates a young and beautiful woman to stay with her husband at work on a farm, instead of looking for their luck in the world together? The employer or the salary?
Christiana: Our employer is really great – he gives us room for expression and believes in us! We are grateful for his attitude over the years. The salary is also satisfactory.
– So it’s time for the salary to go up, Raim! What will you wish your colleagues?
Raim: Perseverance, iron nerves and of course health!
– Thank you both! See you at the opening of the new barn!
Raim: You are invited and you are always welcome!