A novel shed design has been used by a Dutch dairy farming family with positive results.
The Oostdam family has been farming at Bodegraven, in the western Netherlands, for more than 40 years.
In 2007, husband and wife Jordan and Yvonne decided to update the facilities with a modern ‘greenhouse’ shed for the milking portion of the herd.
Mrs Oostdam says: “We took on the running of the farm from Jordan’s parents in 2001 and at that time we were milking 70 cows, mostly Holsteins.
“We wanted to grow the business, but because it is difficult and expensive to increase our hectares, we decided it would be easier to have more cows.”
However, by 2006 the couple realised the existing sheds were too small for the expanding herd, so a new shed was built which was able to accommodate up to 150 cows, with the existing shed now used for youngstock.
“It is different to most barns you see in the Netherlands,” says Mrs Oostdam. “It has a transparent roof and no exterior walls, although we can close the curtains if the weather is really bad.
“We usually only have to do this a few times a year.”
The roof is expected to last between five and 10 years before needing to be replaced and it has been designed to withstand up to 50cm of snow.
The cubicles are deep bedded with composted horse manure, which the family collects for free, stores outside and then blows into the cubicles fortnightly. It is raked over two or three times a day.
Mrs Oostdam says they began by using chopped straw for bedding, but moved away from it as they noticed too much damage to the cows’ hocks.
“We are not able to use our own [green] manure for bedding as we do not have a manure separator, but if we were building the shed again today we would put in a separator,” Mrs Oostdam says.
The family also decided to install two Lely robots when putting up the shed.
“We liked milking, but when we looked around at different farms we noticed how quiet the cows in the robot barns were,” Mrs Oostdam says.
The robotic milkers also mean Mr and Mrs Oostdam can spend time working on their land-management consultancy business, with Mr Oostdam feeding the cows before going to his office job, which takes up about 35 hours a week.
“The robots have meant we were able to double our milk production without the need for additional labour,” Mrs Oostdam adds.
For the last six years, the couple has embarked on a three-way cross-breeding programme of Holstein, Montbeliarde and Swedish Red.
“We want cows that will last a long time,” she says.
“We do not need them to produce 12,000kg, but we do want them to stay in the herd for more lactations.”
About 60 per cent of the herd is AI’d to Belgian Blues, and beef calves are sold at 14-days old.
Dairy replacements are reared on the farm, and go outside in summer, along with dry cows.
The 45 hectares (111 acres) farmed by the couple is peaty in its soil type, making it difficult to grow crops.
“In this part of Holland we can only really grown grass,” she says.
“But it is hard to graze a large number of cows on the small fields typical in this area, so we decided to house our milking herd.”
The milkers receive a ration of 9kg grass silage, for which five cuts is made a year, and 5kg maize, 1.5kg brewer’s grains.
“We are buying-in about 700 tonnes of maize and it is coming from as far as 100km away,” Mrs Oostdam says.
Phosphate regulations also means they have to export muck.
This year, 2,000sq.m of muck will leave the farm at a cost of €10/sq.metre (£9/sq.m).
“We are producing 13,000kg of milk per hectare and our 125 cows are producing as much as the 140 cows we had at our peak last year.
“We would receive more money for our milk if we let our cows graze, but when we did the calculations, we realised it would not be worth it for our cows to be outside.”