Bali Cattle 2022

The Balinese love their cattle and still keep about 600,000 head despite the fact that their role is now largely as a store of value as they are no longer used for draft purposes. Balinese beef consumption is modest.  Animals can still be seen tethered out for grazing during the day all over Bali.

This group is tethered on the side of the road about 500 metres from the infamous Kerobokan jail in the main tourist area of Seminyak/Kerobokan. They graze here most days before being taken back to a nearby house each evening where they are fed additional cut grass collected daily by the owner. Many older Balinese prefer to have some of their savings in the form of cattle rather than cash in the bank. It wasn’t long ago that access to banking and trust in these institutions was extremely limited.  The two adult cattle are the assets while the calf is effectively the annual “interest” on those assets. All can be sold at a moment’s notice to generate hard cash in the case of a family emergency.

This cow and calf are on a vacant block in the popular tourist suburb of Canggu. Bali cattle have a very antilopine appearance and move more like a deer than a bovine. Bali cattle (Bos javanicus domesticus) are a subspecies descended from Banteng, a wild Asiatic bovine. Growth rates are slow, but fertility is extremely high with cows capable of high conception rates while suckling a calf. They are also highly resistant to internal and external parasites.

The draft role of both Bali cattle and buffalo have been completely replaced by these “Chinese buffalo” or diesel hand tractors. Buffalo are now very rare in Bali.

Every Wednesday and Sunday there is a large Bali cattle market at Pasar Beringkit in Tabanan which is about 20km to the northwest of Denpasar.

One of the main roles of the market is the sale of slaughter bulls to buyers from Java. Our visit to the market was only 3 days before the beginning of Ramadan so the majority of slaughter bull sales would have been completed in previous weeks and months. Animals are trucked to Java then held in a large number of small feedlots until the peak festival selling periods. These bulls were estimated to weight between 350 and 450 kg and were selling for Rp45-48,000 per kg or AUD$4.29 to $4.57 per kg live weight. 

Another vital role for this market is price discovery. While a very large number of sales are made directly from farmer to farmer back on the farm, this bi-weekly market provides an invaluable guide to the current sale rates which are set by nothing more than good old unconstrained supply and demand.  There is no loud sale ring with the sale process completed by quietly spoken buyer to seller discussion and negotiation as above. All transactions are in hard cash, Rupiah notes, so the buyers (man in the blue jacket) need to carry very large volumes of notes which they hold in bags held close to their bodies. This young bull might be worth about Rp20 million (AUD$1,900). Using the largest Rp note denomination of Rp100,000, the block of notes needed to buy this bull will be almost the size of a house brick.

These weaners are a mix of male and female. The males do not begin to turn black until they become sexually mature at around 2 years of age. Note the man with the money bag held close to his belly.

And of course, when cattlemen come together, regardless of where it is around the world, they love to talk and talk and talk. Cattle, prices, weather, inflation, their latest rice crop, politics, the neighbours, and a thousand other topics. I hope they know that Lumpy Skin Disease is coming and are talking about calling for vaccine to be made available well before it arrives.

Another bag man quietly negotiating a potential sale.

The young bulls at the centre of the photo are beginning to get darker so are probably around 2 years old. After purchase they will be taken back to the farm and returned in a few years time when they are 400kg or better then sold on to Java. No other breed of cattle are permitted to enter Bali with the exception of a few small dairy herds for local milk supplies.

These weaners sell for a per head rate rather than by live weight. Today, the price is Rp8 million or about AUD$760 each. They probably only weight about 150 kg live. This converts to roughly AUD$5 per kg live weight.

This group is a little larger and may be about 18 months old. Note the young bull on the left is starting to turn much darker than the heifer next to him.

While the heavy bulls appeared to sell quite quickly, the weaners were the subject of endless inspection, discussion and debate.

And debate.

And yet more debate.

The sale negotiation process is very secretive. We were at the market for about 2 hours but did not witness the closure of a single transaction for young stock despite the certainty that it was going on all around us.

Young breeding cows with buyers sale markings. In Indonesia it is a very serious offence to slaughter a breeding female unless it is provided with a veterinary certificate to certify that it is no longer capable of reproducing.

I was lucky enough to catch this transaction for a bull being completed with the buyer handing over bundles of notes to the seller.

I took this photo some years ago at an artificial breeding centre near Surabaya in East Java where elite bulls have semen collected for distribution around the archipelago and overseas. Cattle owners know the cycles of the few cows they own intimately. With good heat detection and a large number of well-trained AI technicians conveniently located all over the country, AI is a popular and effective breeding strategy.

Frestive supermarket in Kerobokan. Bali cattle are slaughtered in small abattoirs across the island and are distributed to a multitude of wet markets and supermarkets daily. Today’s prices are Rp143,500 for topside which is much less than the current rate in Jakarta of Rp160,000. But Bali is majority Hindu so there is no significant increase in demand during the month of Ramadan. Fresh and frozen imported beef is also available in most supermarkets but at much higher prices.

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