By Joshua Kato
Cattle raised at this farm are the size of buffaloes, but there was also ‘the cow’. Although it was standing among the rest in the modern cattle shed, there was something unique about it. Soon, the best farmers visiting the Netherlands discovered why.
The shed, like many others in the Netherlands, was constructed using galvanised steel. Although it was open at the sides, it can be completely closed during winter.
The farmers arrived at the moderate-sized farm after a two-hour drive from the Dutch capital, Amsterdam. Although the farm is fairly mechanised, it is not as high-scale as other dairy farms. In addition to dairy cows, Pieter Kuijer, the farm’s owner, also keeps 60 sheep and grows vegetables.
Standing in a 50-person training hall at the farm, Kuijer told the visiting farmers that this is a generational farm.
“It was started in 1973 by my father,” he said.
His father later handed the farm, located in Hilhorstweg, the cattle-keeping centre of the Netherlands, over to him, as typical Dutch farmers do. By Dutch standards, this is a medium-scale farm, although it is worth billions of shillings.
“This is a champion cow,” Kuijer said.
The Friesian cow produces 48 litres of milk per day. The farm owner said this is far above the average milk production per cow of 35 litres. It does this consistently and this is why it is rated highly.
“All of them produce above 35 litres,” he told the farmers.
Kuijer, however, said to get these yields, they must feed them well. Overall, the farm has 60 head of cattle. Of these, 40 are heifers, while 20 are milking cows.
These produce an average of 700 litres per week. In the next few months, after at least 10 of the other heifers start lactating, he expects to raise daily production to 900 litres.
His normal milk production is 1,200 litres a day.
“We have a very strict breed selection system. This is because we realised that the breed accounts for at least 40% of total milk production, with feeds and other management systems responsible for the rest,” he said.
Kuijer uses a combination of artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer to breed his cows. These two practices are also used in Uganda, however, he advised farmers to take a keen interest in the background of the bull from which the AI semen is drawn.
“You must keep proper records of the sources of AI semen so that you do not end up inbreeding,” Kuijer said.
He pointed out that selling well-bred cattle can be an income earner for the farmers.
“Do not look only at milk as the main source of income for the farm. Selling heifers is a good source of money,” he said.
His heifers cost between euro 2,000 (about sh8m) and euro 4,000 (about sh16m) by eight months. The farm grows grasses and pastures on a massive scale during the summer to sustain the animals during the long winter season.
“I give each of my cows at least 100kg of feeds per day and 140 litres of water per day,” he said.
The farmers were surprised because they thought that was too much. It is common to see farmers giving cows just 20 litres. The assorted feeds include silage, hay, brewery waste, concentrates and alfalfa.
“This is a revelation to us. I have realised that you cannot get milk without feeding the cow well,” Anthony Mateega, one of the farmers, said.
The silage is harvested just before winter sets in, processed and stored in concrete bunkers. During winter, the food is retrieved and fed to the cows.
The dairy unit is supported by a robot milking machine.
“This unit eases the milking process. Cattle go there once they feel they need to be milked. The unit has a sensor that picks the name of the cow or number and the amount of milk it has produced,” Kuijer said.
This also helps farmers identify which cows have not been milked. The shed cleaning and feeding systems are also automated.
A cleaning robot rotates around the shade as it collects dung, before pushing it into a tank. Because livestock feeds a lot, they also release a lot of dung.
“We have got a very big challenge with cow dung here and this is one of the reasons why the authorities regulate the number of cattle that a farmer can keep. So, we have to create innovative ways of dealing with the dung,” he said.
One of these is using it as manure on the pasture and grasses farms.
“It is the main fertiliser that we use here, but additionally, I use manure as ‘carpets’ in the cattle shades,” Kuijer said.
“I dry the dung, before spreading it around through the cattle resting area. The thickness of the layer is about four inches and it works well as the resting carpet for the cows,” he said.
This is a practice that Ugandan dairy farmers can also copy.
“Many of the children here do not know where milk comes from, so we established a training programme for those aged four to 12 years,” Kuijer said.
He decided to start helping young people understand farming. His wife Familie Kuijer is directly involved in the training of the children.
“I grew up in a farming family, so I wanted children in the Netherlands to understand farming at an early age too. There is a feeling that many young people are not interested in farming. This is not good for the future of farming in the country,” Familie Kuijer said. I
n addition to telling the community about cows, he also grows crops like sunflowers along the roads in his farm.
“Additionally, we do not kill any insects that we find on the farm. The majority of these are caterpillars that eventually develop in butterflies,” Kuijer said.
He adds that the agri-tourism practices have endeared him to the community because they have realised that beyond farming, they can also enjoy leisure moments on farms. Due to the farm’s automated processes, Kuijer employs only two people.
“I also take part in the day-to-day activities at the farm including breeding. However, the milking robots, the cleaning robots and the tractors combine to ease labour,” he said.
What ugandan farmers say
Regina Nabwire from Busia District
Although he has got the milking robots, his practices are similar to ours. He is ‘medium-scale farmer’ here although he would be a big farmer back home. He has integrated several activities to maximise profits at the farm, which is a big learning point for us.
Dauson Musasizi from Namutumba District
I like his details, especially when it comes to breeding and feeding the cows. This is what is failing us at home. We buy every black and white cow that we see because we assume that all of them are good. We must be careful with this.
Grace Kwach from Nebbi District
I have never seen a cow drinking even 40 litres of water per day in Uganda. However, Kuijer has told us that he gives his cows 140 litres of water a day and 100kg of feeds per day. This is a big revelation. We have been underfeeding our cows. We are going to make changes.