Dr. Maurice L. Eastridge, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University
This marked the fourth year for the OSU Dairy Industry Study Abroad, with the three previous trips occurring in 2007, 2011, and 2014. The first two trips were to the Netherlands, but the two most recent trips included the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. The group consisted of myself and Dr. Katy Proudfoot, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, as resident directors and 20 students from Animal Sciences; Agricultural Education; Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering; Agricultural Communications; Zoology; and the Agricultural Technical Institute. The trip occurred from May 7-21, and with our arrival during late spring, we missed most of the tulip blooming season in the Netherlands. However, we were able to observe several fields in bright colors, and we were able to tour the Keukenhof, a park with many beautiful flowers, the week prior to its closing for the season. We certainly ate and/or purchased our share of cheese and yogurt, stroopwafels, Belgium waffles, mussels in Brussels, and fine chocolates. We visited Wageningen University, which is the primary agricultural university in the Netherlands, including a tour of their dairy unit on the main campus and at the Dairy Campus in Leewarden and their livestock metabolic chambers at the Wageningen campus that allows some impressive research on energy utilization and gaseous emissions from animals. We visited Utrecht University, which is the only university in the Netherlands with a veterinary program, that included a tour their food animal clinic with a small dairy herd. We also visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (Bergen, Germany), Anne Frank house (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Lely manufacturing plants for dairy and forage equipment (Rotterdam, Netherlands), two cheese markets (Alkmaar and Gouda, Netherlands), a cheese plant (Muenster, Germany), Osnabreuck Holstein Genetics (Melle, Germany), and much more.
During the visit, we toured about 5 dairy cow farms having just a few cows up to about 250 cows. Most of these farms had Holstein Friesian, but one of them had the Blaarkop breed. Two of the farms were organic (or biologic as they refer to such systems) and another one of them was transitioning to become organic. In addition, we visited three university dairy facilities, two that were affiliated with Wageningen University and the one at Utrecht University. The research facility at Dairy Campus aligned with Wageningen was very impressive; it had been totally rebuilt since our visit in 2014, having opened the new facility in May 2016 with 550 cows, a 40-stall rotary parlor, and the capacity for conducting research in nutrition, animal health, animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and housing systems. We visited a cheese processing plant and one of the farms had on-site processing of milk, ice cream, and/or yogurt. Two of the dairy farms had diversified businesses of a restaurant and/or farm games. Technology observed on farms 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 processed milk for sale at the farm as fluid milk and cheese (aged and fresh) and they had a few cows that were milked by a Lely robot. They were making sheep cheese, cow cheese, and cheese from a mix of cow and sheep milk. We visited a goat dairy that consisted of 1650 Saanen goats with does being milked in a 72-stall rotary parlor. The does averaged about 1200 kg/year with 4.10% fat and 3.54% protein. We visited a farm that milked Belgium mares for selling fluid milk, dried milk, or about 14 human health or cosmetic products. The mares were milked with a DeLaval unit. Although we were unable to visit a farm this year with Belgium Blue cattle, we saw several of these cattle from the roadway and several of the dairy farms were breeding some of their cows with Belgium Blue semen to improve the value of the calf for beef.
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, 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 etc. However, even with these regulations, comfort of cows housed inside is often less than desirable with uncomfortable free stall surfaces, improperly designed and maintained free stalls, and inadequate ventilation. The aesthetic focus on a clean farmstead and cows on pasture is not necessarily reflective of the conditions within animal housing areas. The European Union eliminated the milk quota system in 2015 and the number of cows per farm and thus total milk production have been increasing, resulting in an over supply of milk and weak milk prices. In the meantime, environmental regulations have increased, especially limiting the amount of phosphorus that can be land applied. Thus, even though the milk quota has been discontinued, the environmental regulations have been limiting the expansion of dairy farms. The continued ‘desire of the consumer’ to see cows on pasture and to know where their milk comes from is driving more farmers to use production systems with cows on pasture for 120 to 180 days per year (‘meadow milk’ with about $1.12/cwt premium) or to transition to being an organic farm (similar premium as found in US for organic versus milk from conventional systems).
It was certainly apparent of the increased focus on energy and natural resource conservation in Europe over the past ten 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 are to be covered to reduce volatilization of nitrogen, and like in the US, research is being conducted at reducing methane production by cows and increasing feed efficiency.