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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cattle disaster-stressed; industry left in jeopardy


SENDAI — The March earthquake and tsunami affected vast numbers of people in the Tohoku region, but humans have not been the only ones traumatized by the disaster.

News photo
What the hay?: Dairy farmer Naoyuki Hino checks grass feed for cows at his farm in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on June 28. KYODO

Catastrophe-induced stress has damaged the physical and mental health of cattle, exacting a toll on the small-scale businesses of many local livestock farmers.

Cattle are by nature vulnerable to stress. The ailments they're suffering in Tohoku are attributable to multiple causes.

"It will take time for the cattle to get their health back," said an official in the Miyagi Prefectural Government who deals with the livestock industry.

Naoyuki Hino, a 63-year-old dairy farmer in the Miyagi city of Ishinomaki, said, "Our (15) cows are producing 250 kiloliters of milk a month and the monthly output has stayed at that level, although it used to be 350 kiloliters before the quake." This led to a fall in monthly sales by some ¥300,000.

The quake-induced power outage forced Hino to hand-milk the cows only once a day, as opposed to twice a day with machines before the temblor. As a result, the cows' udders became afflicted with mastitis.

"It pained me to hear the plaintive moans of my cows that were hurting," during the two-week blackout, he said. Milk output subsequently declined and quality fluctuated.

Milk cows are usually fed grass in the summertime. But due to the radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, regulatory authorities instructed farmers not to harvest grass at a time when it had become most nutritious.

To secure nutrients for his herd, Hino is buying additional feed, costing him another ¥60,000 or so a month.

If their milk output is to be restored to the previous level, cows must be impregnated and give birth. Tokihiro Sato, 55, who raises Jersey cows in the city of Osaki, worries about the stress his cows are suffering and has concerns "the success rate of artificial insemination may fall."

His concern is corroborated by the Ishinomaki farm cooperative, which says the rate has fallen 10 to 20 percent on many farms after the quake. The situation will compound the plight of farmers, who already saw the insemination rate plummet last year due to broiling summer heat.

Cows are also normally impregnated on rotation to maintain steady milk output over a given period. If they change the rotation schedules, there could be wild swings in the output, possibly hurting the owners' income.

Under such circumstances, stud breeders also stand to lose.

Beef cattle apparently are also feeling stressed and their growth is being stunted, resulting in lower income for breeders.

Kiyoyuki Sekimura, 59, who raises premium beef cattle in Kurihara, Miyagi, complains his herd is putting on little weight. The cattle he shipped in April and May weighed about 30 kg less per head than usual.

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