Dairy farming is regularly under fire in the public debate. Farmers are said not to take good care of their animals and dairy cows are kept in appalling conditions. According to Jehannes Bottema and Rudmer Hilverda of Spinder Dairy Housing Concepts, this image is not based on fact.
What is the situation regarding animal welfare in dairy farming in the Netherlands?
Hilverda: "I think that Dutch dairy farming is at the forefront of animal welfare. This is evident from the average life span and the low replacement rate of dairy cattle. Almost all dairy farmers in the Netherlands work passionately from generation to generation on breeding calves and raising them to healthy dairy cows. And also because it concerns mostly family farms, this gives an average dairy farm in the Netherlands enormous satisfaction and pleasure in their work."
What gives rise to the misconceptions about dairy farming?
Bottema: "There is a lot of misunderstanding because people are often very good at expressing their opinions, but pay less attention to how they form their opinions. In the newspaper, for example, we regularly read that mega farms are in conflict with animal welfare, but this is definitely not true. Mega farms are adapted and furnished in accordance with the latest insights. In them, the cows have enough space and there is adequate light and fresh air.
The misconceptions are also caused by the fact that the majority of Dutch consumers no longer have a direct link with dairy farming. They don’t have any family or friends who work in dairy farming and therefore they do not talk with dairy farmers. City dwellers do not understand what farmers do and why they do it. This is therefore criticism from outsiders which is often not well-founded. Many things seem simple until you have to do them yourself."
What is the interaction between animal welfare and dairy farming?
Bottema: "Animal welfare is one of the most important parameters for dairy farmers.
A cow that feels good and is healthy is a cow that fits in with healthy business operations.
There is no contradiction in that. In addition, curing a sick animal is an unpleasant and time-consuming process that puts enormous pressure on business continuity. Animal welfare and productivity are therefore interests that permanently run side by side."
How do you respond to this?
Hilverda: "We offer a variety of modern options in barn design that satisfy the new insights. We are familiar with the sustainable livestock farming yardstick, sit at the table with the farmers and advise them on it. The contractors make the building, the milking machine manufacturers supply the machines and we take care of the complete interior layout including furniture.“
Bottema: "We stand out because we are a company that develops and produces everything in-house. In addition, with all our products we carefully weigh up whether they are conducive to the comfort of both the farmer and the cow. If the farmer experiences little comfort in carrying out a certain action, this also has an impact on the cows. The win-win situation that arises from this always makes for a distinctive product.“