Donkeys offer new source of wealth
A farmer inspects his new donkeys in Aohan Banner, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. These donkeys were supplied by Dong'e Ejiao Co Ltd in Shandong province. [Photo/China Daily]
Farmers in Inner Mongolia get chance to cash in on meat and skin from 'desert animals'
Surrounded by fields, this farm in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region was once used for raising cattle, but was completely renovated last year to raise donkeys.
The 31,000-square-meter farm in Sidetang village, Aohan Banner, near the city of Chifeng, now has six shelters, each housing around 100 donkeys, as well as an 1,800-square-meter forage house.
"Donkeys are friendly and playful. They do not easily get infectious diseases," said Yin Xuebo, a farmer in his 40s, as he fed the donkeys.
Known as "desert animals" in ancient times, donkeys have served as pack animals, a mode of transport, and a source of protection for other animals from predators for thousands of years. But as agriculture and transportation become increasingly mechanized, the number of donkeys has decreased.
Official data from China's agricultural authorities show that the number of donkeys raised on farms dropped to 6 million at the end of 2013 from 11 million in the 1990s.
But the situation could be changing in a few years as farmers in China such as Yin now look to donkeys as their fortune and their future.
Yin, together with four partners, has invested 3 million yuan ($484,000) in his farm.
"The benefits from raising cattle and sheep are shrinking, but earnings from raising donkeys are on the way up," Yin said.
Yin can earn 1,800 yuan from raising a donkey for six months, nearly double the amount he could earn from raising a head of cattle.
Bai Guoting, head of the Husbandry Bureau of Xinhui town, Aohan Banner, said the price of beef has been threatened by imported meat, which greatly dampened farmers' interest in raising cattle.
Statistics show the wholesale price of imported beef from Brazil and Argentina ranged from 30 to 36 yuan per kilogram last year, much lower than that of the Chinese beef, which was around 60 yuan per kilo.
More than 20 families have so far joined Yin's farm.
"Farmers can buy foals and keep them at our farm. We are responsible for raising and selling these donkeys," Yin said, adding that farmers will earn at least 500 yuan from each donkey.
Li Baolin, deputy head of the agricultural bureau of Aohan Banner, said many farmers have turned to raising donkeys instead of cattle since 2013.
A donkey farm in Binzhou, Shandong province. In China, the benefits from raising cattle and sheep are shrinking, but earnings from raising donkeys are on the way up. [Photo/China Daily]
Zhang Yaxing who graduated from Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology in 2012, returned to his hometown to raise donkeys.
Starting from scratch, the 27-year-old spent one-and-a-half years building infrastructure for his 2,000-square-meter donkey farm in Xinhui town, Aohan Banner.
"It's especially hard in winter－I have to live in the simple house at my farm where there is no heating system and no tap water," Zhang said. His only companions there are his donkeys and a violin.
Visitors to the area may notice a defining characteristic－an absence of young men.
"Although my classmates supported my decision of return to my hometown, they wouldn't choose to raise donkeys as the work is too hard for them," Zhang said.
Zhang has spent 300,000 yuan on the farm, of which 200,000 yuan was collected from his friends.
In February, he sold 70 donkeys he had raised for six months, earning 70,000 yuan.
Zhang, who majored in design, plans to expand the outdoor space for his donkeys.
"With spring and summer coming, donkeys need spacious room to exercise to be strong," he said.
Li said donkeys raised in Aohan Banner used to be sold whole to provinces like Hebei where donkey meat-stuffed baked cakes are very popular and Guangzhou, where the animal's meat and skin are used to make soup.
"The value of donkeys is expected to continue growing as we are cooperating with Dong'e Ejiao Co Ltd to extend the industrial chain," Li Baolin said.
In March, the Aohan Banner government and Dong'e, the largest Chinese maker of ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine made from donkey hide that can improve blood supply, inked a contract to jointly develop the donkey industry.
According to the contract, Dong'e will build donkey farms in Aohan Banner.
Qin Yufeng, chairman of Dong'e, said a shortage of donkeys is threatening the ejiao industry.
The company has raised the factory price of ejiao four times since 2013 as the cost of the raw material－donkey hide－keeps increasing, Qin said.
Li said the price of donkey skin in Aohan market has increased to 2,000 yuan from 500 yuan within three years.
Dong'e will also build production lines to process donkey meat, milk and placenta in Aohan to raise the value of donkeys.
"The value of a processed donkey will reach 20,000 yuan from the current 6,000 yuan made from selling a whole donkey," Qin said.
Dong'e has been cooperating with a Japan-based company to develop donkey placenta-related products, Qin added.
Li said there were production lines to produce donkey meat in Aohan, but the facilities had closed due to the poor state of the market for processed donkey products.
In addition to expanding the industry chain, the local government in Aohan is also working to improve the donkey breed to increase the value of the animals and the related products.
"We have introduced 10 male wu donkeys (dark donkeys) from Dong'e to help improve donkey breed," Li said.
Li said the skin of a wu donkey is around 15 percent heavier than that of the local donkeys.
Li predicted that the donkey industry will be developed into a pillar industry in Aohan in a couple of years.
"The donkey industry is set to be a good way to enrich local people," Li said.
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