More than 1,500 dairy cows embarked on a long voyage Friday from the Pacific Northwest to Vietnam.
The trans-Pacific cattle drive was a change of pace for Port of Olympia Marine Terminal Director Len Faucher. Instead of seeing logs lifted aboard for export to Asia -- the port's "bread and butter " -- he watched a stream of young heifers marched up a gangplank onto an ocean-going livestock carrier.
"Hup, hup, hup" and "C'mon girls!" a cattle exporter shouted, those words occasionally punctuated by the sounds of longshoremen positioned along the ramp slapping hairy butts to keep the animals moving, although the Holsteins actually needed little prodding to go onboard.
"This is a nautical cattle drive," Faucher said.
"It's a three-week cruise and it is all expenses paid," he joked, noting the buffet of hay and cattle feed secured on the top deck.
The overnight loadout marks the fourth shipment of live dairy cattle to Vietnam from the Pacific Northwest since 2015. Around 6,000 future milkers have passed across the docks of Olympia and Vancouver, Washington.
These commercial transactions support a Vietnamese goal to increase fresh milk production, so eventually every child there has the opportunity to drink a glass of fresh milk daily.
This latest shipment from Olympia involved 1,634 head on a specialized livestock carrier named the Angus Express. The voyage to Nghi Son Port in Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, is scheduled to take close to three weeks.
"They do not give Dramamine to the cows," Faucher said in a dockside interview. "Some cattle will get seasick and then they'll adapt, like you would if you got seasick for the first couple days. And then you would start feeling better."
Before loading, the herd was held for observation at an export quarantine farm near Yelm, Washington. There, veterinarians held back any animals that showed signs of illness or disease.
According to a Port of Olympia spokeswoman, a cattleman or veterinarian also travels with the ship to Vietnam to ensure the herd receives good care on board.
Dairy cattle imports from the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand and Australia are building up a herd of more than 30,000 cows and heifers at Vietnam's single largest dairy farm, operated by Vietnamese company TH Milk with heavy investment from Israel.
A blog post by Israeli dairy technology supplier Afimilk recounted how the project started, in 2009, in the wake of media reports about melamine contamination of powdered milk produced in China.
Powdered milk still accounts for the majority of milk sold in Vietnam, according to Afimilk's partner TH Milk Vietnam. Vietnam’s dominant dairy products company, Vinamilk, has also imported live cattle from the U.S.
Olympia port officials hailed their dairy cow exports as an example of successful diversification.
Underscoring the international nature of the dairy business, the previous ship to call at the Port of Olympia was a bulk freighter that unloaded organic corn from Turkey last weekend for use as feed at organic dairies here in the Northwest.