With a shipment of over 2,000 dairy cows, Port of Olympia makes hay in a new market.

Cattle loading at the Port of Olympia, WA
Cattle loading at the Port of Olympia, WA

Late last month, the Port of Olympia loaded some 2,161 head of dairy cattle, 250 tons of bulk feed, 126 metric tons of hay pallets, and 53 pallets of wood shavings on an odd-looking ship called the Ganado Express, and sent the cows on their way. Owned by Livestock Express out of Singapore, the China-built ship and its unique cargo are bound for Vietnam.
That exercise marked the second time the port had hosted this kind of cattle run; the first came two years back. They are part of a Vietnamese government effort to battle childhood malnutrition through providing milk to all children. The cows, which come from Idaho and Washington farms, are Holstein Friesian heifers, and will be (hopefully) impregnated once they reach their destination. Forty-nine are already pregnant.

Marine terminal director Len Faucher is hopeful more cattle will follow in their hoof-steps. “We hope to be the key benefactor on the West Coast,” Faucher said, adding the port expects another such shipment to be staged in the early summer. The port hopes other countries in Asia follow Vietnam’s example of importing heifers from the US for dairy stock.

For the Port of Olympia, this welcome business comes at a time when all ports are scrambling to counter the downturn in break bulk shipping.

“We need to find some unique, new markets,” Faucher said. “These cattle have been a great one.”

The port has also attracted some other unusual bulk shipments, including gold and organic grain.

Loading the cattle is an exercise in care. “Everyone wants that animal to be in the best shape until the end of the voyage,” Faucher said.

The feed and hay had to be warehoused. Bedding had to be loaded on the vessel before the cattle could board.

Contamination is a huge issue, and the port had to follow detailed guidelines set out by the USDA. The dairy cows had to be loaded directly onto the ship. To insure the cattle didn’t touch the docks themselves, the port retrofitted a new, 20-foot container into a platform.

The specially fitted gangway was inspected to make sure as well that no jagged edges could damage the hoofs.