It's early morning in the Indonesian port city of Semarang and Renae Flett is on a highway teeming with trucks, cars and scooters.

The hum of engines and constant sound of horns tooting is a world away from the Manawatū dairy farm she calls home.

Flett, 32, is in Indonesia to learn more about the country's dairy industry, which is believed to be set for exponential growth due to a booming middle class.

Her vehicle weaves through traffic before reaching several small barns nestled behind a cluster of temples and houses.

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She parks up, opens the door of the air conditioned car and is hit by the stifling heat - Indonesia is on the equator and it's already 27C at 8am.

"Indonesia's dairy industry is very different to what we're used to in New Zealand," Flett says.

"There are lots of tiny farms and they're all hidden from view."

The average Indonesian dairy farm has between one and five Friesian cows, which are kept in barns all year.

Flett says the temperature inside the barns is quite cool despite the heat outside.

"Most of the barns don't have any walls, which allows air to circulate freely.

"The animals are happy and comfortable. They have rubber mats to stand on and can lie down whenever they like."

The cows are tethered through their noses with a rope and halter, which is a practice that has been done for generations.

Lactating cows are milked twice a day by hand and some farmers are starting to use portable petrol-powered milking machines.

The milk is collected daily and taken to a small processing plant, where it's sold locally.

Indonesian farmers are often forced to sleep in their barns to prevent the theft of their cows, which is a major problem in the country. Photo / Supplied
Indonesian farmers are often forced to sleep in their barns to prevent the theft of their cows, which is a major problem in the country. Photo / Supplied

"The milk is stored in metal pails before it's picked up and there is no refrigeration," Flett says.

"Farmers get paid weekly and there is only one processor they can supply."

The dairy cows are worth 4-6 million Indonesian rupiah, which is between $400-$600.

"The Indonesians believe cows are worth more if they have horns and no ear tags and the heads are the most valuable part of the cow," Flett says.

"Recording of artificial inseminations is still new for farmers, up until now it was a surprise if they got a Friesian or a Hereford calf. Inbreeding is an issue with the lack of recording."

In New Zealand, the majority of dairy cows live outside and have a grass-based diet, but Flett was fascinated to learn that Indonesian dairy cows eat elephant grass.

Maize silage or other mixed rations are also grown, harvested, stored and fed to cows using expensive tractors and machinery.

Most farmers do not have any land outside the barns where their animals are housed, meaning feed has to be brought in.

"Fifty kilogram bundles of elephant grass are cut and carried to livestock twice a day, this is done either on foot or by two wheeler motorbike," Flett says.

"Farmers can travel up to 40km a day to get feed for their cows, the number of bundles they have to transport depends on how many cows they have."

Flett says previously the long grass was fed straight to cows.

"But they have started chopping it up into smaller more palatable pieces and that practice has just been introduced.

"Most cows now have access to ad-lib drinking water, before it was only offered to them twice a day."

Indonesian dairy cows produce between 11-16 litres of milk a day and cows being fed the finer chopped elephant grass eat more and have higher production.

Flett's four-day visit was organised by New Zealander Greg Maughan, who she knew through her involvement with the NZ Dairy Industry Awards.

Flett stands beside two bundles of elephant grass, which cows eat in Indonesia. Photo / Supplied
Flett stands beside two bundles of elephant grass, which cows eat in Indonesia. Photo / Supplied

Maughan is in Indonesia delivering an aid package to smallholder dairy farmers on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

He has been in Indonesia for a year, informing farmers on how to help lift production and profits and improve the welfare of animals, while still keeping a low cost system.

The project is running focus farms in four different areas around Semarang and involves about 11 farmers.

Some of those farms are also adding soybean waste, maize, concentrates and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and copper into cows' diets.

As part of the aid package, Indonesians have been learning how to make grass silage and maize silage.

"The supplementary feed is being stored in 200 litre blue drums and large plastic bags," Flett says.

"So far the bags have worked out to be the cheapest option in the trial, but the drums have been easier to seal. Some farmers are also using small wooden handmade bunkers."

In Indonesia the maize is planted and harvested by hand, there are no large tractors or contracting equipment.

Farmers often sleep in their cattle barns at night to stop their cows from being stolen, which is a major problem.

Flett says theft of livestock isn't the only challenge facing Indonesia's growing dairy sector.

"One of the biggest challenges is that young people don't want to take over the farms, the shortage of young farmers entering the industry is a major concern.

"They find office jobs more appealing."

The trip made Flett appreciate the new technology, milking machines and big open paddocks New Zealand has.

Flett, a NZ Young Farmer, is in her third season contract milking 180 predominately Ayrshire cows on 70 hectares at Rongotea in the Manawatū.

"Farming on my own provides a lot of benefits. I'm challenged daily and I've learned to define my skills," she said.

"It's great to be in a club with like-minded people where you can learn new skills and help future young farmers."

Cows feed on chopped elephant grass inside a barn on an Indonesian focus farm. Photo / Supplied
Cows feed on chopped elephant grass inside a barn on an Indonesian focus farm. Photo / Supplied