Dairy farmer Douwe Maat made some clear choices when he took over the farm from his parents. Not only regarding the design and construction of the new barn, but also in terms of operational management. “Our farm was already quite extensive with 84.5 hectares of land. The transformation to organic farming was a small step and fits in well with our way of family farming in an ever-changing world".
The dairy cattle were permanently moved to the opposite end of the village. A new barn for dairy cows and a young stock shed were built on the former location for young stock. His parents continue to live in the old farmhouse. The barn meets the requirements of the Dutch benchmark for Sustainable Stockholding and fully complies with the regulations for keeping organic livestock. “The Benchmark is a fiscal scheme. Terms for organic certification are even more demanding and affect the overall management as a result”. The barn design was based on the concepts of "durable" and "sustainable".
The layout of the barn is well thought-out. "In the past few years, I have been thinking about it and refined my ideas to perfection". The barn is built in a 2+0+3 arrangement and the central feeding alley splits it in two sections. It has two spacious straw-bedded pens for calving and sick animals, a bull pen, a separation area, and 153 cow cubicles. The three-row section of the barn is in line with the milking parlour and can be used as a waiting area. Rather than having a milking robot, a 2x14 abreast-type milking parlour has been installed. "Due to our organic farming practice, our cows are outside from mid-April to mid-October. Milking takes no more than an hour and a half, after which the animals walk back out past the pen that holds the bull".
The waterbed is almost indestructible
Picking the right cubicle matting was an easy decision, thanks to the farmer’s experience with waterbeds in the old barn. Comfort around the dairy housing equipment is important for both the cows and the farmer, says Douwe Maat. "A waterbed is not only a comfortable cubicle bed for the animal, but it also lasts for many years, as we know from experience. It is almost indestructible."
The old barn still had R cubicles, but free hanging cubicles (model Profit) were intentionally installed this time. No post obstructions between the cubicle beds, and optimal water movement that follows the cow's body shape. Every day, only one bag of ground straw is used as box litter at 153 lying places for the dairy cows. "We are also delighted about our waved neck bars." Douwe points at a cow that is just getting up. "She has ample space to get up without touching the neck bar. In addition, it makes the entire row of cubicles more stable. A no-brainer, I would say."
Daily comfort at a relatively low investment
Douwe experiences the ease of operation of the Highline feed fence daily. "If I wish to move the cows to the other part of the barn, I first lock the feed fence in this part. That way, the cows have no access to the feed fence. Very useful, as it saves me from having to move them away from the feed fence. I can also seperate and secure cows individually for treatment, if necessary". As well as the ease of operation, he also quotes the solid construction of the locking mechanism. "A feed fence is more expensive than just a feeding tube, of course. Considering that the investment in the feed fence was less than 1% of our overall capital expenditure and what we are getting in return on a daily basis, the choice was not hard to make".
Just some more finer details need to be done in the cow shed before he moves on with the farmyard. Building an equipment storage shed and clamp silos are also in the pipeline. Further ahead in the future, the energy supply for the farm will also be looked at. The new milking parlour is not connected to the gas mains. A pre-cooler, a frequency control on the vacuum pump and LED lighting are used to save energy. A heat recovery system and a solar boiler are used to produce hot water. "If we can also generate our own electricity using solar panels or a wind turbine in the future, we will be making major steps towards sustainability."