A Thousand Sheep for the Son

Article, 23.03.2017

A Thousand Sheep for the Son
Sevak, a farmer from Verishen village, Syunik region, Armenia FDFA

It is foggy and snowy in Verishen on that day of February, with temperatures lying way below zero degrees Celsius. Verishen is a small village in the Syunik region, in the south of Armenia. Its houses are built neatly, in a row, out of stone. The roads haven’t been paved for a while; there are holes everywhere. A young, confident looking man in a sports suit and slippers, surrounded by few other men, speaks on the phone. He does not look very satisfied. Later on, he explains that the path leading to his farm got covered by an avalanche in the morning. Now, he tries to organize a tractor. Only then he introduces himself. Sevak is his name.

Sevak Zadayan, 37, and his wife Hermine, 36, both grew up and got married in Verishen. Today, they have three children. There were times when they wanted to sell their small farm and do something else to earn a living, perhaps even to migrate as many others did. There’s not much more to do in Verishen other than to keep livestock. However, the location is a big problem. The village is situated at 1600 meters above the sea level and 250 kilometers away from the central markets of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The road to the capital leads over several high mountain passes. The nearest pastures are worn out; the remote ones have neither access to water, nor a path to go there.

Sevak had had basic experience in keeping farm animals before he took part in the trainings on farm planning and development provided by a Swiss-funded project, which is implemented by the Strategic Development Agency, a local NGO. „We used to keep livestock all year-round in the open air and wondered why our cows gave almost no milk in winter!“ he exclaims with a big laughter opening his arms wide to the sides and raising his shoulders to his ears. „We learned to build open-air-barns and to milk cows under the roof to keep the milk clean. We learned that diverse fodder is important for productivity of the livestock,“ Sevak proudly states.

Today, Sevak and Hermine, who started with five cows in 2009, maintain a farm of 30 cows of „Caucasian Brown“ breed. What they own today all comes from the Animal Market built through the Project some 15 km away from Verishen. „The Animal Market provides quality veterinary check-up before selling the livestock. This gives me confidence in animals’ health and genetics. Moreover, I can pay the amount gradually and without any interest. I can bring my animals to sell as well. Otherwise, I would not have enlarged my farm“, confesses Sevak.

New Life On Pasture Lands

New Life On Pasture Lands
Landscape around pastures in Syunik region, Armenia © FDFA

The young farmer knows that diverse fodder is vital for successful milk production. However, as with many other Armenian villages, the nearest pastures to Verishen have been over-used and the remote ones have no basic infrastructure such as access to water, not to speak of electricity. Animals lose lots of energy to reach water, and as a result they give less milk and meat.

„Together with the project we restored 5 kilometers of path leading to the pastures at 3000 meters above sea level and stretched water pipes to 1200 hectares of land,“ proudly explains Ararat Ordnyan, the administrative representative of Verishen. „We removed stones from degraded grazing land and cultivated new types of annuals and perennials (as clover, alfalfa, timothy, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Italian ryegrass, sainfoin, etc.) which stimulate milk and meat production. Most importantly, healthy pastures keep animals healthy and happy!“ he laughs. The restored pastures belong to the village administration, which takes care of them, and the farmers in return pay for services. Sevak has his own pasture. He prefers to be independent from the municipality, but he uses the knowledge he has gained about good maintenance of grazing land.

Where does the milk go?

Where does the milk go?
Employee of "Elola" cheese factory, Syunik region, Armenia © FDFA

Each „Caucasian Brown“ cow in Sevak and Hermine’s farm gives 5-12 liters of milk daily depending on the season (which makes a daily total of 150-360 liters). A small part of it goes to the house kitchen. Hermine makes yoghurt and brings it to their small shop in the village. Her products never remain in the store for more than one day. The biggest part is delivered to the nearest milk collection point of „Elola“ cheese factory, once founded by Edik and Lola at the place of a former prison.

Today, „Elola“ processes 3-25 tons of milk daily depending on the time of the year and runs 7 milk collection points. During 2017, it is planned to open one more milk collection point together with the Project. “Elola” produces various sorts of traditional Armenian cheese, such as „Chanakh“, „Lori“, but also Georgian “Suluguni” cheese. „I would like to export Suluguni to Georgia!“ jokes Erik Harutyunyan, the Director of „Elola“. After 18 months of trial, they also succeeded in making a sort of Dutch semi-hard cheese, as he calls it, with lots of holes in it, just like Swiss „Emmental“!  „The goal is to keep the dairy products 100% natural. It is very challenging, but possible!“ he repeats several times.

Today, „Elola“ has become an important social player in the Syunik region. It collects milk from 200 farmer families. „Elola“ pays for the milk on time and according to its quality and even guarantees payment for animals bought by farmers from the Animal Market. 70% of the dairy products produced by „Elola" are sold within the country, while 30% are exported to Russia and the Arab Emirates.

A Veterinarian for Verishen

Sevak and Hermine do have plans and dreams. One of them is to build a barn for 1000 sheep for the return of their son, who is studying in Yerevan to become a veterinarian. „There is no veterinarian nearby our village, so my son is going to be one“, says the proud father. „The second son, most probably, will work in the production sphere. He has already four cows to take care of, and produces and sells yoghurt as well“, adds the father. The daughter is still small, only three years old. She still has time to decide.

Sevak and Hermine also plan to improve the genetics of their livestock through artificial insemination. „It is better to have less cows but of a good breed, like Holstein or Simmental, those are good milk producers!“ the farmer sighs with sparkling eyes.

Sevak loves to learn more through exchange visits. Unfortunately he missed one occasion to travel to Germany to visit his counterparts but he does not lose his spirit. „One must never give up. If one wants to achieve something, it is important to go on!“ he says. „If life goes on as it is now, I am happy,“ says Hermine but then she adds „peacefully, so that my two sons finish the army service safe and sound.“

Sevak receives another call. All in vain, one small and old tractor cannot manage to clean the path to his farm. Luckily, there are farm-boys who take care of the animals. He promises that in May it is a good time to visit his farm and blossoming pastures.