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Intercontinental nutritionist: Chinese dairies are making great progress

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 27 May 2016
Dr. Calvin Willis

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series profiling sources for an in-depth feature about the Chinese dairy industry, appearing in print later this summer.

Calvin Willis, Ph.D., has made his home in Southern California for the past 35 years. Widely respected throughout the southwestern U.S. as a consulting dairy nutritionist, he also works internationally.

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Raised on a livestock farm in southwest Arkansas, Willis attended the University of Arkansas for his bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition. He graduated with a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition from the University of Kentucky.

Willis began his professional career as a dairy cattle nutritionist for Loper Systems, where he worked with more than 25 large dairies throughout Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas and Mexico.

In 1991, Willis launched his own business under the name CMW Nutrition of Corona, California. Today he continues to work with 30 dairies throughout the southwestern U.S. as well as Kansas and Nebraska, in addition to dairies in Mexico and China.

Willis worked in Mexico before BST and Rumensin were approved in the U.S.

“My experience with these products internationally gave me a lot of crucial information when we began implementation in American dairies,” he explains.

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As the consulting nutritionist, Willis visits his U.S. dairies monthly.

“During a visit, we look at production, dry matter intakes and sample feeds,” he explains. “I also walk pens, evaluate body condition, examine manure and feed in the bunk, and review feed mixing procedures.”

Willis formulates rations for all groups of cattle on the dairy, in addition to designing supplements. He also helps with inventory usage, addresses problems and advises owners on products to buy and contracts to purchase.

Calvin Willis and client

Chinese dairy experience

“Two years ago, a colleague designing dairies in Asia recommended me to a dairy in China,” Willis says. The interview, including conversations by email and Skype, took several months before his nutrition work with them began.

Since then, Willis has assisted the Chinese dairy with expansion efforts increasing their milking herd from 60,000 cows to 80,000 Holsteins and Jerseys.

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“During one of the first meetings I had in China, the dairy had all their cows in 2,000 head units,” Willis explains. “The newest dairies each have 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000 milk cow capacities.” The Chinese dairy also grows approximately 80,000 heifers annually.

“When I started working with the Chinese dairy, they were buying corn silage from local growers with a variety of transportation methods,” he says. “I was told that in the old days, corn plants were cut by hand and delivered to the silage pit on bicycles, horse-drawn carts or small tractors pulling wagons.”

The plants were hand fed through tractor-powered wood chippers and pushed up with a small tract layer caterpillar.

“They said there were not many ears of corn left on the plants at that time, but the process has improved significantly today,” Willis says. They are now using Claus choppers, side and end dump trucks and trailers, and large tractors for pushing and packing.

One of the biggest differences Willis has found in working with China is their vertical integration in the dairy industry.

“The dairies in China manage many aspects of their operation,” Willis says. Chinese dairies often milk cows, raise heifers, own the milk processing plant and manage the feed mills. They may also process bypass soybean meal and roll grains.

Chinese men and Calvin Willis

The Chinese dairy Willis works with has installed their own laboratory to analyze feed samples. “The Chinese take good care of their cows,” he says. “They are making great progress, and they are eager for information from professionals that have a lot of experience.”

“While in China, I visit both dairies and heifer raising facilities,” Willis says. “We also usually visit one of the feed mills and the lab.” If his trip occurs during the growing season, Willis will also put boots on the ground examining corn and alfalfa fields. He has worked hard to help his Chinese client put up better corn silage.

“I write a report for each facility we visit,” Willis says. “On my next-to-last day in country, the reports are translated and the presentations are prepared.” He usually spends the last day of each trip meeting with management.

During his last visit, the owner shared his plans for raising bull calves in feedyards. “The Chinese are very efficient and innovative,” he explains.

Willis formulates all the rations and grain mixes for the various cow groups, working with an on-site Chinese nutritionist for implementation. This individual worked in the states for a number of years and speaks English, which makes the collaboration much easier.

“I use Google translator for some communications, but I’m not shy asking for help when it comes to the Mandarin language,” Willis explains.

“I enjoy working in China,” he says. “We are able to make big changes with so much potential for improvement.”  PD

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer who makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO 1: Dr. Calvin Willis works with dairies throughout the southwestern U.S. as well as Kansas and Nebraska, in addition to dairies in Mexico and China.

PHOTO 2: U.S. dairy nutritionist Calvin Willis also consults in China, where he visits the feed mills and laboratories of his client.

PHOTO 3: “The Chinese are making great progress, and they are eager for information from professionals that have a lot of experience, ” shares Calvin Willis. Photos provided by Calvin Willis.

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