European Dairy Industry Study Abroad

Maurice Eastridge, Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

This marked the third year for the OSU Dairy Industry Study Abroad. The two previous trips (2007 and 2011) were taken in June at the end of the Spring Quarters, but with the move to semesters, this year the trip was taken May 1-17. The first two trips were to the Netherlands, but this year included the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium with about 5 days longer than the two previous trips. However, with the early spring in the Netherlands this year, we again missed the tulip blooming season. The group consisted of myself, my wife, and 11 students from Animal Sciences, Agricultural Communications, Food Science, and Biomedical Engineering. We certainly ate and/or purchased our share of cheese and yogurt, Belgium waffles, mussels in Brussels, and fine chocolates,  and we toured two university programs (Utrecht University and Wageningen University), the oldest planetarium in the world (Franeker, Netherlands), visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (Bergen, Germany) and Anne Frank house (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Lely manufacturing plants for dairy and forage equipment (Rotterdam, Netherlands), two cheese markets (Alkmaar and Gouda, Netherlands), and much more.

During the visit, we toured about 10 dairy cow farms having just a few cows up to about 500 cows. These farms included an organic dairy (Blaarkop breed), two university dairy facilities, two farms with on-site processing of milk, ice cream, and/or yogurt, and two farms with diversified businesses of a restaurant and/or farm games. Common technology observed included either the DeLaval or Lely robotic milker units, Lely Juno automatic feed pusher, Lely Discovery barn cleaner, automatic milk feeders for calves, and automated bedding systems.

We also visited a sheep dairy farm that had about 90 ewes that processed milk for sale at the farm as fluid milk and cheese (aged and fresh). The goat dairy visited consisted of 1500 goats with does being milked in a 72-stall rotary parlor. The does averaged 1200 kg/year with 4.10% fat and 3.54% protein. About 70% of the does were milked continuously without breeding, with breeding only occurring when milk yield dropped below a specified amount or there was the specific desire for offspring from high performance does. We visited a farm that milked Belgium mares for selling the milk as fluid milk, dried milk, or 14 human health or cosmetic products. They had about 40 mares that were milked with a DeLaval unit. After the mares give birth, they start milking them during the day after about two months. They start by milking once per day, then twice, and then they get up to milking them about every 3 hours. At night, the mares are not milked but the foal continues to nurse. The mares are typically milked for about six months. We visited a farm that had about 70 head of Belgium Blue cattle. The muscling on these cattle is amazing, and thus because of the size of the calf when born (90 to 155 lb), about 90% of the cows required caesarian.  We also observed some of the dairy farms breeding some of their low-producing cows to Belgium Blue sires.

There continues to be increased restrictions in the European Union related to animal health and welfare, such as no tail docking, restricted use of antibiotics (e.g., if < 50,000 cells/ml of SCC at dry off, no antibiotics used for dry cow therapy), calves have to be 14 days of age to transport, dehorning with hot iron requires an anesthetic which must be administered by a veterinarian, and hot iron branding is prohibited. The European Union is still on track for elimination of the milk quota system by 2015. The dairy farmers did not seem to be very concerned about this, but the general attitude was that it was going to be replaced with further manure application and land nutrient regulations that are going to limit farm expansion.

It was certainly apparent of the increased focus on energy and natural resource conservation in Europe over the past seven years of the program. There is increased use of solar panels on farms (usually placed on barn roofs), continued focus on wind and water power, and soil nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) balance. Manure storage systems must be covered to reduce volatization of nitrogen, and like in the US, research is being conducted at reducing methane production by cows and increasing feed efficiency. 

Study Abroad

Pictured top (L to R): Joey Brown, Devon Bokeno, Olivia Houts, and Candace Lease
Pictured bottom: (L to R): Kayla Oxendale, Victoria Trbovich, Stephanie Telek, Cayla Inkrott,
Katie Williamson, Angie Evers, and Erin Williams