Today we are again visiting the farm in the village of Veselets, Razgrad region, because since the end of last year it has a new owner – Mr. Mitko Koychev. He is an agricultural producer with extensive experience in the field of agriculture and it was right to meet and talk about the considerable investment made, his plans and priorities, especially since it is the largest herd of purebred Montbeliard in Bulgaria. However, we are not having a meeting with him, but with Mr. Tihomir Atanasov, to whom the owner has entrusted the management of this large and modern farm. He is our guest in the section “From the farms” and will tell us how a person with no experience in animal husbandry manages to cope with the management of the farm, what he has found and how he intends to develop it in the future.

           As you will read, Mr. Atanasov was very honest and let us know that when there is desire and a lot of work, lack of experience does not hinder good results.

– Hello Mr. Atanasov. Please tell us more about yourself.

– Hello, my name is Tihomir Atanasov and I am the manager of the farm where we are. I am a chef by education, which has nothing to do with the business we are currently developing. For the last 10 years I have been mainly engaged in agriculture. It was in connection with agriculture that we met and became friends with Mr. Mitko Koychev, who is also the new owner of the farm in Veselets. In the interest of truth, we both have no significant experience in cattle breeding.

– What is the reason for Mr. Koychev to invest in this farm? Why not set up your own farm?

– The farm is one of the most modern in the country and in addition to its purebred animals, it has a very good and working team. The decision to buy the farm, as often happens, was made spontaneously and unplanned. For several months, the previous owners negotiated with another buyer, but in the end it was bought by Mr. Koychev, along with the agricultural land attached to it. His main goal was to invest in agricultural land, as this is his main business. The farm was part of the deal and I was challenged to manage and develop it.

– You have been a farm manager for more than half a year, can you say that this is a profitable investment?

– From my position – yes! Of course, we are still in the process of adaptation. We get to know and optimize the processes with the team I manage. I think things will work out in perspective. In agriculture we are very dependent on nature and if we are lucky for 2-3 strong agricultural years I think we will do very well overall!

– Are you planning any more serious changes – construction activities, new facilities?

– Regarding the base we have, at the moment we do not have to optimize anything that will allow us to concentrate on the quality of the herd and in particular on the selection. In this regard, it turned out that there is something to be desired. For some reason, the selection of the previous owners was neglected, which is unacceptable in such a modern farm. We will concentrate on the team and the selection in the herd, and we will leave for repair only the generation of the most productive animals. Herd optimization is currently a top priority.

– Don’t you think that very high productivity will lead to reproductive or other health problems?

– Indeed, highly productive animals are more susceptible to disease and at some point we may have some reproductive problems, but it’s all a matter of adequate care. In my brief experience in cattle breeding, I became convinced that animals require individual monitoring and timely response. Otherwise, good results cannot be expected in the long run. When the animal care team is competent, there is nothing wrong.

– Did you mention the team, did you keep the employees you “inherited” from the previous owners or did you create a new team?

– We kept them and I am very happy with them! The only new addition is a young veterinarian who graduated this year and brings youthful energy to the team.

– Dr. Karamfilov from the Agricultural University in Plovdiv years ago made an analysis of productivity and linear evaluation of the herd. Based on these results, do you plan to improve the herd?

– Not only. We are currently in the process of a detailed analysis of the condition and results of the animals. There is no better assessment than that of people who take care of the herd and know the animals in detail. I trust them and together we discuss every situation and make decisions as a team. Things cannot happen unilaterally, all factors and points of view must be taken into account. This is my job as a manager – to make decisions based on the information I have.

– You said that you do not have significant experience in animal husbandry, but it is obvious that you are acting on a grand scale. Haven’t you dealt with animals at all before?

– Every country boy grew up in a yard full of animals, and there was at least one cow among them. The love of animals is something innate to us. Agriculture and animal husbandry are natural choices for people growing up in small settlements.

Indeed, the scale of the farm I currently manage cannot be compared to a farm, but from the very beginning I felt a great desire and pleasure to do it. I have enough experience in managing another business, specifically in agriculture, but things are strongly connected. I learn fast on the go and I am convinced that with work and capable people around, things will happen.

At first, of course, I was surprised, but I think I was able to quickly orient myself in the situation. I didn’t think to be serious about animal husbandry, I had 2-3 black-colored cows and that’s it. Apparently it wasn’t the time and now it’s time for that. Everything gives me great pleasure and I am highly motivated to make things happen.

“You’ve seen black-and-white animals, and now you’re a purebred Montbeliard.” Can you compare them in a few words?

– Montbeliards are very nice animals and if it depends on me the breed will not change on the farm. Indeed, the black-and-white are bred with higher milk yield, but our animals are not inferior in quantity. Currently, the average milk yield is about 25 liters per day and the goal is to increase, of course. There is nothing to compare the quality of milk at all.

– Where do you sell the production at the moment? Is the dairy you work with a correct partner?

– The production is processed by a dairy, which belongs to the previous owner and we have a very correct relationship with him. The terms of purchase are good and we are satisfied.

– Do you have a plan to close the cycle and own processing of dairy products?

– Of course, it is natural to plan in the future. The closed cycle should be the ultimate goal for anyone with such a herd. The specific dairy we are working with has also been announced for sale, but as it is relatively far away – in Lesidren, we are still not convinced that purely logistical is the best solution.

– How did you manage to make up for the lack of experience? Did anyone help you in the beginning?

– In every industry, things change every day and you learn while you are alive. I have an innate interest in animal husbandry and I study willingly. The most important thing is to listen to the opinion of colleagues on the team and draw on their experience. The work and the team are my best teachers. Active communication with the Association, with other colleagues and partners also helped me to enter the activity faster and more efficiently.

The work in each farm is very specific and the fact that a practice works successfully on a farm does not mean that it will be effective in our country. For this reason, together with the team we discuss and make decisions for each case, taking into account the conditions in our farm.

– Does this mean that a good farm manager does not have to be a hereditary cattle breeder and vice versa – many years of farming experience does not guarantee effective management?

– Maybe yes. For example, in our case – before us the farm was managed by Dr. Draganov, who is a recognized veterinary specialist in the region and by the way is my cousin. No one disputes his qualities as a doctor, but the current situation with us in terms of selection was not satisfactory. I do not understand the reasons for this, and it may not matter, but I am of the opinion that selection should be among the main priorities for any farm. In this regard, in my opinion, – good conditions, proper nutrition, hygiene, competent team, selection and reproduction, everything must go hand in hand and be equally important. There must be a clear vision for future goals, not work to be carried along to a satisfactory degree.

I have set more ambitious goals. I think that with the team we work with, the results will be visible very soon! True professionals are not satisfied with mediocre results! There is no maximum – you should always want more and if someone has set limits, nothing will happen.

 As for whether it is necessary to be a specialist in the activity you manage – it certainly helps, but it is not obligatory.

– What goals have you set for yourself in the near and distant future?

– I can share one specific goal, which implies the fulfillment of many others. In terms of milk yield, I have set a goal that after 2 years the average milk yield of cows will reach 28 liters. At the moment it is 25 liters. I am ready to write it and sign it.

– Great! We have it promised and together we will check if this is a fact in 2 years. You said you were learning and relying on the team you kept on the farm. In most other farms, one of the biggest problems is finding and retaining motivated and competent staff. How did you manage to retain and motivate employees?

– By listening to their advice and distributing responsibilities properly. It is very important that everyone does what they are good at, and our employees are really competent and I trust them completely.

I hope that in time it will turn out that together we made the right decisions and I managed to do my main job – to motivate and develop the team to work more effectively. Everyone should be responsible and feel part of the process, not work mechanically – from milking, cleaning, monitoring to medical care. Everything must be done with thought. Good working conditions and frank conversations are a must, of course!

– Tell us something about the owner, what kind of person is he? Does being a friend help or hinder your work?

– One word describes it very accurately and it is “fair”! Friendships have nothing to do with work and help so much that we already have very good and direct communication.

Mr. Koychev’s main business is agriculture and he is fully concentrated in it. As I said, a successful manager is able to redistribute responsibilities, especially when engaged in various activities. I am grateful to him for the trust he has given me and I hope with the time and the team I have to justify it.

The farm was an additional business to the purchase of land for Mr. Koychev, but he provided us with freedom and conditions to develop.

– In the short time you have been the manager of the farm, did you have the pleasure to feel the communication with the state institutions? If so, did you find a loyal partner and support in their face?

– Yes, I had this honor. We had several inspections – almost monthly, which gave me the opportunity to make an impression. It turns out that in decent farms they always think of what else to check – BFSA, paying agencies, etc. I have the feeling that all state institutions aim not to help businesses, but to catch someone in the act. This is their main priority and the more diligent and orderly you are, the more they want to punish you. This applies to all industries! Apparently things do not change, because for the last ten years every contact I have with such services leaves the same impression on me. Everything is very difficult and tormented!

– Let’s talk about the Association. Did it help you adapt to the new position? Do you have any recommendations?

          – At the moment I am receiving full cooperation and I have no specific recommendations. In the future, with the accumulation of experience and vision I will inform you when we have specific recommendations and ideas, but in terms of selection will certainly need close cooperation.

Today I spoke with the President and we discussed different cultivation technologies in France and I think I can get a lot of useful information from the Association in this regard.

I also have an idea to get acquainted with original dairy products, which are produced from the milk of Montbeliard, in order to develop our unique products in the future.

– Great! It’s high time someone did it!

– I hope that after achieving all current and urgent goals we will have time to think and implement various interesting ideas. As I said before – development is an ongoing process!

– How do you see the farm in 5 years. What do you want to change?

– I would like to have the most productive herd without significantly increasing the number of animals, an efficient and cohesive team, and many new goals to achieve!

– Great and motivating finale! We will visit you again to check if this is done!

– I was pleased and I will wait for you to check together!