Twenty Ohio State students from Animal Sciences; Agricultural Education; Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Agricultural Communications; Zoology; and the Agricultural Technical Institute and two faculty, Maurice Eastridge, Animal Sciences, and Katy Proudfoot, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, toured the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to study the dairy industry.
The trip was May 7 to 21. With the arrival during late spring, most of the tulip blooming season in the Netherlands had passed, but a few fields were still arrayed in bright colors.
The group ate and purchased cheese and yogurt, stroopwafels, Belgium waffles, mussels in Brussels and fine chocolates.
They visited Wageningen University, which is the primary agricultural university in the Netherlands, to tour their dairy unit and their livestock metabolic chambers which are used for research on energy utilization and gaseous emissions from animals.
The group also visited Utrecht University, which is the only university in the Netherlands with a veterinary program, to tour their food animal clinic with a small dairy herd.
During the two-week tour, the group 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) and Osnabreuck Holstein Genetics (Melle, Germany).
During the visit, five dairy cow farms having just a few cows up to about 250 cows were visited.
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.
The research facility at Dairy Campus in Leewarden that is aligned with Wageningen University opened a 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.
Visits to dairy processing facilities included a cheese plant in Muenster, Germany and one of the farms had on-site processing of milk, ice cream and yogurt.
Two of the dairy farms had diversified businesses of a restaurant and/or farm games. The farms’ technology included automated milker units, feed pusher, barn cleaner, milk feeders for calves and bedding systems.
Several of the dairy farms were breeding some of their cows with Belgium Blue semen to improve the value of the calf for beef.
The group visited a sheep dairy farm that processed milk for sale at the farm as fluid milk and cheese (aged and fresh) and the farm 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.
A goat dairy the group visited consisted of 1,650 Saanen goats with does being milked in a 72-stall rotary parlor.
Students also toured a farm that milked mares for selling fluid milk, dried milk and human health and cosmetic products.
There continue to be increased restrictions in the European Union related to animal health and welfare, such as no tail docking, restricted use of antibiotics, minimum age of 14 days for calves to be transported and dehorning with hot iron requires an anesthetic which must be administered by a veterinarian.
The European Union eliminated the milk quota system in 2015 and the numbers of cows per farm and thus total milk production have been increasing, resulting in an oversupply of milk and weak milk prices.
In the meantime, environmental regulations have increased, especially limiting the amount of phosphorus that can be land applied.
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’) or to transition to being an organic farm.
Energy and resources
The increased focus on energy and natural resource conservation in Europe over the past 10 years that the study tour has been offered was apparent. More farms use solar panels, usually placed on barn roofs, and continue to focus on wind and water power and soil nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) balance.
Coverage of manure storage systems to reduce volatilization of nitrogen occurs, and like in the U.S., research is being conducted to reduce methane production by cows and increase feed efficiency.
The study tour allowed the students to observe the practices on several dairy farms, interact with students and personnel from other agricultural universities, tour dairy-related manufacturing and supply companies and to observe the impact of dairy farming and dairy products on the economy, lifestyle and diets of people in Europe.