het land van de Friese koeien en paarden (The Land of Friesian Cows and Horses)

Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Dairy Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

The land is spotted with Friesian dairy cattle and horses, sheep, and green grass pastures – The Netherlands. A country with about 25% of its land below sea level and with dairy cattle and milk products deeply rooted into its culture and food system. Kaas (cheese) and yoghurt (yogurt) are staples for every meal of the day. The Friesian dairy cattle and horses orginated in The Netherlands and continue to dot the landscape, grazing the lush green pastures.

Ten OSU students and my wife and I left for the Netherlands on Monday, June 13 and returned on Saturday, June 25, focusing on the dairy industry within the country. We visited four privately owned dairy farms, totalling about 1000 cows, one of which was an organic farm. We also visited two dairy research facilities (one industry-based and one university owned), totalling about 700 cows. The price for milk was equivalent to about $0.23/lb, with the organic milk valued at about $0.04/lb higher. We visited a goat dairy farm with about 650 does. The does averaged about 8 lb/day, 4.3% fat, 3.20% protein, and 2.3 kids/year. The does were milked in a rotary parlor. During our visit to the Terschelling island, we toured a sheep dairy that was milking about 94 ewes, yielding about 4.5 lb/day. This farm was making cheese from the milk and selling it at the farm and at some retail outlets.

Utrecht University provides the only veterinary program in the country, accepting about 225 students into the veterinary program each year. It also is the only university outside the U.S. that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wageningen University provides one of the country’s leading agricultural programs. We also visited one of it’s dairy research facilities, Waiboerhoeve, especially focusing on nutritional, animal welfare, and environmental research. One of the environmental projects included the installation of flaps in the cracks of slatted floors so that manure could fall into the pit, but the flaps would flex back in place to reduce the escape of ammonia into the atmosphere (results inconclusive at the time of our visit).

There is a lot of automation used on dairy farms in The Netherlands, driven much by the high cost of labor and the labor laws. Several of the dairy facilities we visited used robotic milkers, automated feeding of milk replacers to calves, and automated delivery of bedding (straw or sawdust) into animal pens.  Because of the extent of automation, we scheduled a visit to the manufacturing facility of the Lely Dairy Equipment company in Rotterdam. We observed the assembling and testing of robotic milking units (about 60 to 65 robots built per week), including a system for pasture herds, and learned that Lely either currently sell or have prototypes for animal activity monitors, milk feeding systems for calves, in-line milk composition assessment, TMR pusher, computer grain feeders for cows, and an automated manure scraper for slatted floors.

The Netherlands is a major supplier of cheese, especially in the Europena Union. The highest amounts of exports are for Gouda cheese. The number of cows per farm and production per cow are increasing. The costs of production are rising and the quota system is planned for a phase out by 2015. So, lots of changes are occurring in the dairy industry, with the industry also being shaped by the environmental and animal welfare regulations and the public’s push for preserving the pastoral setting.

The OSU students who participated in the Netherlands Study Abroad Trip (Left to right):
Kristen Wright, Patrick Twining, Kevin Crist, Krizia Melendez, Katie Cole, Amelia
Nyhart, Sarah Finney, Sabrinia Eick, Brooke Barley, and Victoria Dawson.