This article was written by Mark Teets and published by Development Solutions International here.
Name: Mark Teets
Current title/profession: Sheep farmer, pastor
Current hometown: West Virginia
Areas of expertise: Sheep and dairy production
Name of project: Sustainable Animal Herding in Mongolia
Location of the project: Mongolia
Organization that sent the volunteer: Development Solutions International (DSI) under Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) Special Program Support Project (SPSP)
My name is Mark Teets and I was born to a farming family in West Virginia. I was raised on a dairy farm where my father and grandfather had once delivered milk door to door. I took over the dairy when I was 19 years old, becoming the top producing dairy in West Virginia and continued to dairy farm for 25 years. After my children left for college, I left the dairy business to begin raising sheep, a less labor-intensive production. I have raised lamb for the last 15 years, working closely with West Virginia University's (WVU) reproductive physiology program.
I was encouraged by my WVU contacts to pursue an opportunity to travel to Mongolia to work with dairy. I was selected to take part in the program but did not really know what to expect of the experience. I am told Mongolia has 3 million people and 66 million livestock. We showed how we do our records based on electronic tags in each animal. They expressed concerns that the herders had little records to go on. We shared information on CIDRs as inserts for sheep and how they could use them to improve the sheep flock. I gave a presentation about milk production in the United Sttes from the smaller farms to the consumer.
Overall, I was very pleased with the organization of the programs and my travels. I found quickly that the people of Mongolia, in particular the government officials, were eager to listen and work together. I knew very little Mongolia and the people there and even less of their agricultural practices. One thing that really stood out to me was the vastness of the grazing area and the large number of livestock. This concerned me because of the extreme problem of over grazing the land. We talked about this problem and several ideas to improve grazing practices.
Over grazing of 65 million livestock: The highlight of my trip was spending time working and living alongside the herders. I spent several nights in gers, ate meals around the traditional bowl of Mongolian meat, and traded life experiences with my hosts. I tried new foods and ingested more varieties of milk than I ever knew existed and from more than just cows. I got to ride Mongolian horses and saw camels and other livestock.
Livestock, I learned, meant more than one species of animal to the herders there where I was accustomed to raising one variety of animal. Livestock to them included sheep, goats, cows, horses, and camels. I experienced wonderful hospitality and left Mongolia with many new friends who I look forward to keeping in touch with thanks to Facebook.
There were several immediate changes that my visit encouraged regarding the agricultural practices of the herders. We encouraged the herders to begin using the California Mastitis Test to improve the quality of milk by checking white cell counts and to use more sanitary practices while milking and storing. We distributed sample kits of the CMT, gloves, CIDRs, and hoof rasps. It is our hope that our visit will bring some long-term improvements in feeding, nutrition, and marketing.
One of the problems for the herders is lack of water for their livestock. Great experience for me as I was able to be out with the herders as they did their work. They are into horses and the herder we visited is an award-winning horseman. Nearby was a well that I am told that waters about 4000 head of livestock a day. The water made a huge difference. Not only with the horse but he had cows, sheep and goats. It is fortunate that the family is closer to a well, water shortage is a huge problem for herders.
My visit to Mongolia not only impacted my life, it also sparked an interest in my community. Being a pastor of a church, my three-week absence was noticed by my church family and excited the curiosity of the community. They will be hosting a community wide event featuring my presentation of pictures and experiences. The members of the county farm bureau are also interested in hosting an event. I hope by sharing it will encourage others to participate in programs like this and I hope to continue helping where I am able.