On the Pan-American Highway you will find in Nata de los Cabelleros a place called Eco Park Don Arcelio. Surely it will catch your attention to see figures of animals built with straw and tires. This farm is a family legacy since the 1920s when Juan de Dios Saenz and his family started agricultural activities in the area.

Today, the third generation, the Saenz Sucre brothers, manage the property. They named it Don Arcelio in honor of Arcelio Saez Sandoval who was an uncle of the current owners. The community of the area wanted to know more about the processes of farming and they decided to venture into agro-tourism. Currently the farm is certified by the Tourism Authority of Panama and the Ministry of Agricultural Development.

A park that promotes recycling

On May 17, 2016, Eco Parque Don Arcelio opened to celebrate the World Recycling Day. The main function of the park is to reuse the solid waste coming from the farm. They used small car tires and tractors, CDs, household containers, grease tanks, zinc sheets and wood.

People left many tires outside the farm. The traditional thing is to burn or bury them, which is harmful to the environment. They made a business commitment to collect all the tires from Penonome to Aguadulce. It was the initiative of the bosses together with the collaborators. They took ideas from trips to Colombia, the United States, Costa Rica and Spain. They also used the Pinterest social network. They hired an experienced Colombian who worked together with the collaborators to build the park.

Our guide tells us that “they want to show everyone that what can be rubbish for me can be taken and turned into a work of art”. They create awareness not to throw garbage, or create breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Tourist activities and contests

Visitors can go from 9 a.m. at 3 p.m. with prior reservation. They have a pirate ship and a doll house by Hansel and Grettel, apart from a petting zoo made of tires. Its construction took four months and used 975 pieces of tires.

They are accessible for people with disabilities, wheelchairs, unicycles and strollers for babies. There is a swing for wheelchairs and a special wagon in the tour tractor. The idea came after they received children with psychomotor delays and thought it was important to integrate everyone.

They recently did a contest with plastic artists in March. In order to let individuals and professionals be creative taking advantage of the harvest. Art on Earth is a concept that interacts directly with nature. Everything is biodegradable and is not permanent. Groups of three made a `bear and other animals to compete for cash prizes. People stop to take pictures.

They upload activities in their social networks. They also had a story telling contest where classes of different schools compete to make stories in favor of nature.

Milk route

Eco Parque Don Arcelio is a farm that produces milk with high technology. Two milkings are done per day, 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., with a 12 hour period in between milkings which must be respected. The cows go to the cooling room from 12 to 1 in the afternoon and thirty minutes before milking. The system is controlled by a computer that reads the relative humidity and extracts the caloric index of the animal. This result warns how many minutes of air or water they need to lower the temperature of the animals. If animals have lower temperatures they can eat more and produce more milk.

They bring them to the rhythm they want for milking, they do not rush them. If they are calmer, it avoids the use of oxytocin, a hormone that occurs naturally when they are relaxed. A stressed animal reduces its production by 15-20%.

They do not use bovine growth hormone because they say it slows down the reproduction of animals. They can not afford a cow to go six or nine months without being pregnant. To produce milk cows need to give birth. Eco Parque Don Arcelio is a dairy farm that does not sell meat and has 160 cows in production on 300 hectares.

High productivity in Eco Park Don Arcelio

They produce 4,200 liters a day and sell it to Bonlac. The process is explained to the milkers and they are rewarded for production. A good month can represent between $650-800 in salary.

When milk leaves the milking parlor it has a temperature between 32-34 degrees. Then it goes through stainless pipe channels to the cold tanks where it is lowered to 4 degrees to avoid bacterial growth. They do tests to measure colony forming units; If they are too high, they punish when purchased. If they have up to 10 thousand, they are given a bonus of 4 cents, 2 cents for 20 thousand and if that amount passes there is no bonus. Milk grade A is from 100 thousand units but there are no incentives. To achieve the bonuses you need to have good animal health, clean the udder and send milk as quickly as possible to the tank. On average, they pay 54 cents per liter.

There is a cow named Gretel, which they use when tourists want to do a manual milking. It is a Holstein which is the number one producing cattle in world and has more than 800 years in genetic improvement. Most of the cows that they have are a cross between Holstein and Gyr that was developed in India and can withstand heat and humidity very well.

The average of the region is between 6 and 8 liters per animal but this crossing reaches up to 14 liters which is more similar to the highlands of Panama. They have animals that give up to 35 liters per milking.

They are currently in the process of expanding the operation to Don Arcelio Dairy. If you visit you can make rice with milk, yogurt and cheese.

Other animals

Visitors can touch miniature animals such as pony and donkey, Igor and Florence. Rocky is a rooster that always appears when you take pictures. They also have Panchita the buffalo, sheep and horses.

The aquaculture section at Eco Park Don Arcelio reproduces colossoma; red and gray tilapia; sergeant; turtles; ducks; snooks; clams and tiger guapote.

The farm has an area for the conservation and reproduction of iguanas that are in danger of extinction.

An agro-thematic trail allows visitors to learn about the planting process on a farm. They can see products such as soybeans, corn, fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, ornamental trees and fruit trees.

Clean production with the environment

Eco Parque Don Arcelio has a photovoltaic plant that saves them almost 80 tons of CO2 per year. It also reduces the electrical cost by 80% and eliminates the voltage fluctuation.

All the water that is used in the milking process is channeled into a pit that has efficient bacteria that decompose the eses. This is pumped to the grazing sleeves to fertilize the grass. They save 2 quintals of chemical fertilizer per hectare and have 50-60 grazing sleeves. They want to achieve a green production stamp. In 2014, they received the Clean Production Award in Panama.

Visit Eco Park Don Arcelio to learn about a farm with an environmental focus that uses technology to develop best practices.

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