Dairy focus: A glimpse of how the other half lives in the Netherlands

In this week’s dairy focus, we will be taking a look inside some of the Dutch dairy farms AgriLand had the privilege of visiting whilst on a trip to the Netherlands with the dutch company, AHV International.

The following dairy farms would be typical examples of many traditional, family-run dairy farms in the Netherlands; all of which are mainly high-input, high-output dairy farms with a huge focus on nutrition, animal welfare and performance.

Farm Lubbersen

The first farm we visited was farm Lubberson, run by Wim Lubbersen and his two twin sons, Kevin and Twan. Passed down through generations, Kevin and his brother Twan are the third generation to farm the family farm after their grandfather purchased it back in 1965.

The farm itself is located in Holten – which is in east Holland – and consists of 100ha, of which 70ha is grass and 29ha is maize.

Currently milking on the farm is a herd of 190 pedigree-Holstein cows which are milked through three Lely Astronaut A3 robots – that were installed on the farm 11 years ago.

Commenting on the performance of the herd, Kevin said: “At the moment the cows are visiting the robots 2.9 times a day. Last year, we sent over two million litres or 10,500L/cow at 4.45% fat and 3.65% protein; this equates to 875kg of MS/cow.”

The family supply their milk to FrieslandCampina and, at present, they are achieving a base milk price of  35c/L.

Like many Dutch farms, the Lubberson farm operates a year-round calving system with all bull calves going to the veal market and any extra heifer calves sold.

We get approximately €100 for our bull calves. We used to get more, but since all the calves started coming from Ireland the price has fallen.

The family have also recently installed a Lely Vector feeding system. They described it as “a consistent feeding routine for the cows”, which they feel has had a positive influence on milk production.

Furthermore, like a lot dairy farms in the Netherlands, the cows are fully-housed all-year round. This, they say, is mainly due to the peaty soil type, but also because they feel like they have a better control over their herd’s diet while they are indoors.

Their herd’s diet includes: silage; maize; concentrates; minerals; and water – which is all fed through the Lely Vector system. In total, they are feeding 22kg of DM/cow/day.

“On average we take six cuts of silage every year. We mow the silage ourselves, but any other machinery work is done by the contractor. This includes injecting the slurry and spreading the farmyard manure,” explained Kevin.

The housing facilities include: a traditional ‘free stall barn’; a loose wood-chipped shed; and a calf rearing shed. The main shed contains fans which are switched on once temperatures reach over 20º along with deep-bedded cubicles or ‘stalls’.

The ‘free stall barn’ is mainly used to house the younger cows while the wood-chipped barn is used to house any older, lame or freshly calved cows.

Answering the question ‘would you increase cow numbers anymore’, Kevin said: “No, I can’t really, because after milk quotas were abolished a new phosphate quota was introduced by the Dutch government. So, we have to pay €8,000 for phosphate rights to milk every one extra cow.”

Farm De Kandelaar

The second farm, farm De Kandelaar, had a very interesting past. In 1957, the farm and the surrounding land were reclaimed from the sea, creating the 12th and last province of Holland, known as Flevoland – which is now home to some of the best land in the world.

De Kandelaar was also previously an agricultural experimental farm, but in the year 2000 Joris Van Kempen swapped his farm, with the then government’s farm and moved to Flevoland.

The farm is now occupied by Joris, his sister Mariska and her husband Marc – who are all involved in the running of the farm, as well as their on-farm bed and breakfast (B&B).

The farm consists of 110 cows and 75 young stock who, like farm Lubberson, are fully-housed all-year round. The housing facilities include: a free stall barn; a slatted shed for young stock; and some calf housing facilities.

Like the previous farm, they operate a year-round calving system with bull calves kept until they are 14 days old before they are sold to the veal market.

Another interesting fact about this farm is that the cows are milked through two DeLaval VMS robots which are both 19 years old; making them two of the oldest DeLaval VMS robots in the Netherlands.

The farm was also the second farm in the Netherlands to get DeLaval VMS robots.

19 year old VMS DeLaval robot

Commenting on the performance of the herd, Joris said: “Last year, we produced 9,000L/cow at 4.5% fat and 3.7% protein; this equates to 760kg of MS/cow – at a base price of 35c/L.

“My ideal cow is a cow that will produce over 10,000L with 4% protein. When I pick my bulls I focus on the fat % and protein %. I want to deliver milk not water; water costs a lot of money.”

The herd’s diet includes maize, silage, hay, brewers grains and wheat.The maize is grown on farm along with sugar beet, potatoes, onions and tulips.

“We do nearly all the work here ourselves, except for the harvesting which is done by a contractor,” explained Joris.

Making a final comment, Joris said: “I love what I do. I’m a farmer because I want to be a farmer. If I was doing it for the money, I would put a for sale sign at the road.”

Farm De Boer

The final farm we visited was slightly different than the previous two, in that the cows were let out to graze for a proportion of the year; allowing the farmer to receive a bonus payment of 2c/L.

In the Netherlands, some co-ops offer an additional bonus payment to dairy farmers that allow their cows out to graze for a proportion of the year.

The farmer in question is Siem de Boer who runs the farm along side his brother Jan. The farm itself is located approximately 50km outside Amsterdam city and consists of 170ha.

“The soil here is very peaty and heavy, so it is difficult to graze. The cows are usually in night and day from October, then out by day in April and then out night and day by June,” explained Siem.

On the day of the visit, the cows were out day and night while also receiving some buffer feeding of silage, maize and crushed potatoes; however, Siem noted that they would soon have to be housed at night.

On the farm is a herd of 300 Holstein cows – which are milked through a 50-bale GEA parlour – as well as 150 young stock, which are grazed off farm.

Touching on the performance of the herd, Siem said: “Last year, we produced, 9,700L/cow at 4.3% fat and 3.6% protein; so, 789kg of MS/cow – at a base milk price of 35c/L.”

The farm infrastructure includes: a shed containing 315 cubicles; two slatted sheds; two silage pits; and a calf rearing shed.

Once born, the calves are moved to singular calf pens where they are fed 3L of colostrum. They are kept in these pens until they are 14 days old and are fed 9L of whole milk/calf/day. They are then moved to group pens where they are put onto an automatic feeder and moved on to milk replacer.

The visit to the Netherlands was a real eye opener, but like the dairy industry in Ireland, it is not without its challenges – such as phosphate limitations; reductions in antibiotic use; and trying to control their environmental impact.