October to December 2006


Balik Scientist Johnny Abilay Milking his knowledge to help beef up the country's livestock



We now have the momentum...We are ready for some changes.

Like cheese that gets better with age, Dr. Johnny Abilay is so ripened with knowledge and skills that he now wants to share it to his countrymen.

“I want to spend the rest of my life teaching our countrymen everything I learned,” this recently retired returning scientist says with conviction.

Dr. Abilay is a US-based scientist who, through the Department of Science and Technology’s Balik Scientist Program, recently came back to his home country to share his knowledge and skills on livestock and dairy.

His 90-day itinerary in fact is filled with activities like survey trips to various farms and research institutions, and review of dairy-related activities and development programs.

Reviews and findings

Dr. Abilay’s first task is to analyze calving information on frozen Holstein semen recently imported by the National Dairy Authority from the US. He said the imported semen have appropriate uses.  Some are good for large cows and never for heifers, while the rest can only be used for small cows and large heifers. “We may have calving difficulty if the semen used is not proper,” he said in a memorandum.  Aside from the technical advice, he also added reminders on proper recording in the same memorandum.

“I observed that our farmers do not have proper recording techniques to speak of,” he says. “Records are very important for breeders, so I am encouraging our farmers to make a record of everything.” 

He lamented that not all dairy farms kept records. “Even those that had some forms of records were either improperly used or not used at all,” he said. “Worse, none of the records can be used to directly analyze for genetic improvement.”

To improve the dotted situation, he introduced to the dairy farms some forms of record keeping that would show a cow’s lifetime breeding performance, pedigree, and lifetime milk production.

To help farmers monitor their milk production, he introduced forms so that farmers could record each cow’s daily and monthly production. He also had forms for recording semen collection, evaluation, processing, and post-freeze quality check, and technician insemination record.

He also observed that farmers had no uniform and consistent identification system of dairy animals. Common identifiers used in the country, he said, are ear notches, ear tags, neck chain with tag, hot iron or freeze branding, color pattern and pictures, tatooes, and registration number.  For cattle breeding and genetic improvement, Dr. Abilay recommends at least one permanent and one or more temporary animal identification system.

He found some frozen semen sample motilities satisfactory at the National Animal Breeding Center in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. But the unsystematic collection procedures disturbed him.  According to Dr. Abilay, he noticed that tubes of semen initially evaluated for quality were not tagged with sire and ejaculate numbers.

“Laboratory personnel relied on memory and arrangements,” he disclosed, “so it is possible for identities of series of semen tubes to get mixed up.”

He recommended proper tagging procedures and acquisition of calibrated spectrophotometer to quickly and closely determine the correct sperm count of collected semen.

Dr. Abilay’s observations and surveys on dairy farming situations and operations were gathered from his visits in 16 provinces in the country, including the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija, Del Monte Dairy Farm and Milk Plant in Bukidnon, Milk Processing Plant in Davao, Goat Farm of the Missionary Baptist in Davao del Sur, NDA in Cebu, Dumagute City Semen Collection and Processing Lab, among others.

Dr. Abilay’s visits to all these places showed that the local livestock industry still have a lot to work on in terms of improving milk quality, pasteurization techniques, and dairy facility management.

Philippine Dairy Breeding Plan

Part of his Balik Scientist mission is to review the Philippine Dairy Breeding Plan.  After a review of the plan, he laid out several recommendations such as the use of proven or registered and pedigreed young sires preferably of the Jersey breed, and maintenance of higher Holstein blood level.

Holstein is highly recommended for its high potential for milk and beef production and optimum tolerance for the most adverse environmental conditions in the country.  Currently, Abilay is working on the details of proposed revision to the national dairy breeding program. The program’s main goal, he says, is that the Philippines should be able to reduce its livestock importation by 2010.


“It is quite gratifying to witness the enthusiasm and pride of dairy farmers in their source of livelihood,” Abilay says. “We need to sustain their interest and pride in dairy farming by providing them with dairy animals of excellent genetic potential that will produce high volume and very good quality of milk.”

Abilay emphasized the need to sustain programs in dairy farming because no matter how enthusiastic people are, it will eventually die down when not maintained, he said.

But “people are so receptive, I think this kind of attitude is what matters,” he said.

“I am grateful for being awarded this Balik Scientist slot. I’ll spend the remaining years of my life to help the local dairy industry,” he added.

Dr. Abilay, from Siquijor province, obtained his BS Agriculture degree from the University of the Philippines Los Banos. He finished his MS and PhD in Dairy Science from the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beginning in 1988 until his retirement last March 2006 as Hatchery Quality Control Representative, he worked at the Foster Poultry Far in Livingston, California, the 7th largest and one of the most profitable poultry companies in the US. 

Before migrating to the US, he worked as technical adviser at the Magnolia Dairy Farm and Lipa City Dairy Farm. He was also taught at UPLB where he handled graduate and undergraduate courses in Animal Science.

DOST''s Balik Scientist Program arranges the
contracted return of Flipino S&T experts from
abroad to render services in local institutions,
government, private and academe, along their
field of specialization. This program has
attracted a number of foreign-based Filipino
scientists to help in local developmental efforts.
As of 2006, there were 293 Balik Scientist
grantees since the program's inception in 1975

Department of Science and Technology's Scientist Program invites S&T experts who are Filipinos or of Filipino descent to share their expertise in the country particularly in biotechnology, information and communication technology, pharmaceuticals, environment, packaging R&D, and housing and construction.  Short-term awardees stay in the country for one to three months. The BSP shoulders the expert's roundtrip airfare up to P150,000.

I would like to make effective use of the Balik

Scientist Award,” Dr. Abilay said. With the support he’s getting in his field visits, he says, “We now have the momentum. We are now ready for some changes.” STP