Green Green Grass of Home: How a former chief engineer and public official found his way to dairy farming
Located at the juncture of scenic mountain slopes and sprawling plains in Brgy. Sta. Maria East, San Nicolas, Pangasinan, the 299-hectare Bravo Dairy Cooperative origins can be traced back from a chance encounter of its founder, BGen. Francisco S. Bravo, with some of the well-known businessmen and entrepreneurs including the late Mr. Danding Cojuangco and former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. sometime in 2010 during the birthday bash of former Minister Conrado Estrellla. As the group in his table enthusiastically shared their experiences on dairy farming, and encouraged by former Sen. Magsaysay Jr., the seed of putting up his own dairy farm at his hometown of San Nicolas, has been planted in BGen. Bravo’s heart.
While no stranger to green pastures and treacherous mountain terrains as a former Chief Engineer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary, BGen. Bravo has nonetheless exercised due diligence before venturing into the dairy farm business. To equip himself with the right foundation, he has taken several seminars on dairy farming. First, he attended the 21st Dairy Congress and Expo on May 23-25, 2018 in Tagbilaran City, Bohol. Encouraged, he also joined the 22nd Dairy Congress and Expo on March 27-29, 2019 in Tagaytay City, Cavite. Further, to equip himself with more knowledge and help him gauge the economic feasibility of the business, he also attended seminars conducted by the National Dairy Authority (NDA) North Luzon Department in Malolos, Bulacan. Urged by the fact that only 30% of national dairy consumption is coming from local sources, BGen. Bravo was convinced that a local dairy farm could be a profitable venture.
For BGen. Bravo, it takes a strong belief / faith that based on what he learned from the seminars of NDA, he would be able to make the venture profitable. He recalled that when he was first given two pairs Bulgarian carabaos from Muñoz, Nueva Ecija by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), he was initially discouraged as one of his caretakers got gored by one carabao. This has not stopped him to pursue his vision however. To leverage existing resources, he founded a dairy cooperative that included employees of his existing company, the Rogenox Construction and Supply Corporation, and many indigenous people of San Nicolas, Pangasinan.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and its adverse impact on the local and national economy, the growth potential of Bravo Dairy Cooperative has been drastically curtailed as consumer spending was diverted mostly to the purchase of rice and other essential goods. To help the community around it, Bravo Dairy Cooperative provided milk for frontline workers at the Eastern Pangasinan General Hospital, to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and soldiers assigned in Eastern Pangasinan. It also donated milk products among the poor and indigents of Barangay Sta. Maria East in San Nicolas, Pangasinan and to other local government units through their mayors, vice mayors and barangay captains. Instead of the milk products getting spoiled, Bravo Dairy Cooperative distributed them to the poor. In hindsight, BGen. Bravo was glad that only 20 cows were initially given by the NDA as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to operate with a bigger number.
During the COVID-19 government enforced lockdown, Bravo Dairy Cooperative employees were tapped to develop the farm’s pasture land in anticipation of the coming rainy season. With strict enforcement of safety measures, they started planting range grasses such as molato, sorgrum, maize/corn, signal grass, Brachiaria Humidicola and other creeping pasture grass. They also started cultivating local supplement plants such as madre de agua, malungay trees, kakawate, caliandra and ipil-ipil along the perimeter of the 299 has of pasture land. To date, only 23 hectares have been planted with indigenous trees. Bravo Dairy Cooperative plans to slowly cover all of its 299 hectares of pasture land.
As of today, Bravo Dairy Cooperative has an inventory of 49 female cows for milking; 9 male cows; 8 young female calves; 5 young male calves, 17 female Brahman; and 1 male red Charolaise to cross breed with the Brahmans. Bravo Dairy Cooperative is being supported by NDA North Luzon Department through Dr. Edelyn David and its consultant Dr. Rami Hamad.
Dr. David, the attending veterinarian of NDA North, conducted trainings for Bravo Dairy Cooperative employees on how to produce milk products including flavored milk with varieties such as strawberry, banana, chocolate and ube. Another expert in the field, Dr. Hamad who is based in Ireland is also a veterinarian, a practicing dairy manager and a consultant with a 27-year experience working in various capacities. He was dairy consultant to Austrex in Australia, a Farm Manager in Baladna, Qatar and in Nishat, Pakistan. He was also the CEO of TH True Milk in Vietnam, a Farm Manager in Al Rawabi, Dubai, a Unit Manager in Al, Marai, Saudi Arabia and provided consultancy services and project management in Ethiopia, Malaysia, Iraq, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kuwait, Thailand, Jordan, Yemen and in the UAE.
When it comes to dairy farming, Dr. Hamad believes that cows are best left to roam around the pasture land by themselves. He thinks that a free-range dairy farm is more conducive to the overall health and wellbeing of the cattle. BGen Bravo shares the same opinion as he also witnessed that in Bravo Farm (which is located somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles in California) as well as in Australia, the dairy farms are likewise adopting a free-range method in managing the cattle. The cows would only go back to their barn when it is already late in the afternoon for shelter and protection. This would make the cows happier and more productive.