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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care August 2007

Hi Folks,

This past month I got to spend 2 weeks with all my aunts and uncles, cousins and 2nd cousins in Holland (the Netherlands). It was great to be together with all of them after about 13 years. The last two times I was in Holland was for some specialized veterinary training in bovine immunology (summer 1993) and for calvings and C-sections (spring 2004). While my direct family does not farm, they certainly know enough farmers and on my Mom's side we can trace our family back to the late 1500's in Friesland when of course everyone farmed for survival. Friesland is the home of the Friesen part of Holstein-Friesens as well as Menno Simons. On my mom's side of the family were many Mennonites historically and my parents were married in a Mennonite church in Holland. Dutch Mennonites, however, have always been culturally different than the Swiss German Mennonites and Amish who came across the Atlantic to the United States since the Dutch were more in the towns and cities. However, there was much aid given by Dutch Mennonites to the waves of emigrants from the Palatinate, the Alsace and other Swiss/German/French areas that went through Holland on their way to America. If you are ever interested, there is a wonderful book which nicely links the aid activities of the Lancaster and Holland Dutch Mennonites. It is called "Passing on the Comfort" written by An Tichelaar and Lynn Kaplanian-Buller, published by Good Books in Intercourse, PA. The book is an in-depth account of how An, a Dutch Mennonite with her husband, a minister, hid Jewish refugees and others from the Nazi's in Friesland during the war and how sewing circles in Ephrata, PA sent quilts immediately after the war? s end to help the Dutch people, both Mennonites and non-Mennonites. It is essentially a story of what my parents and relatives endured during World War II and linked to the local Lancaster Mennonite relief community. It's easy reading and I couldn? t put it down; I? ve given copies away to many people.

OK, what else about Holland? As for the land and weather, it happened to be cloudy and cool the whole time I was there, but usually they have hot July days like we do. Being it is on the 52nd parallel, it gets light about 4 am and stays really light well into the evening, until 11 pm. But, the flip side is that in the winter it is darker longer than here. It was nice to get back into summer time heat when I returned! The western half of the country is as flat as a pancake and mainly below sea-level, with canals and sluits running everywhere to bring the water up grade towards the North Sea. This is of course helped by power pumps, but in the old days, the wind mills also helped to move water upwards (as well as grind grain). Now, there are more and more modern wind mills dotting the landscape in order to harness the wind for energy. There are cows right up along side many of the highways as well as the back roads of course. Cows (and sheep) also munch grass right up to all the little water ways that divide and sub-divide countless pasture paddocks throughout the landscape. Pastures areas have fences around the perimeter but within the perimeter each paddock is essentially divided from others by sluits (narrow and shallow slow moving water in ditches). The water in the canals and sluits is generally clean (except in the cities) but usually a muddy brown color. This contrasts nicely with the emerald green pastures.

One thing I really noticed is that in every village, there still exist all the small shops and stores with the different trades thriving. For instance, in Velp, there was the cobbler s shop, the small pharmacy, the book store, the three small clothing stores, a cheese shop and a natural foods store among others. And every Thursday, a parking lot becomes filled with people that come in for market day, one person different kinds of fish, another different kinds of fruit, another with different cheeses, and of course the flowers - there are flowers and flower sellers everywhere in Holland and how they make beautiful bouquets from the bunches of flowers you pick from their enormous stocks on display. This kind of market is found in many towns still on different days of the week.

I went to visit one farmer whose farm was basically part of the grounds of a small castle just outside Velp, which is near the city of Arnhem where my uncle was mayor. This is in the eastern part of the country very near the German border. The farm couple had a two year old child and milked 45 cows on 70 hectares of land, which is about 170 acres. They said they have excess land and really like to pasture their cows. Interestingly, he has a herd of mixed breeds. While there were certainly Friesen genetics to be seen (they are somewhat shorter and bulkier than a modern Holstein), he also bred in jersey, brown swiss, and two minor breeds  the regional Maas-Rijn-Ijssel (or MRY) and also Fleckvieh, which he liked very much. Since they have a quota system (somewhat similar to Canada), they are limited to the amount of milk produced per farm in a year. This also has an impact on protein and fat production, but not quite as much if I understood it correctly. Therefore, he likes to breed for fat and protein mainly. In general , Dutch dairy farmers like to say that when they breed their cows to US Holsteins genetics, the offspring give water(!) since the fat and protein are low. He also likes to use as little grain as possible and, in his words, grows enough corn silage to keep body condition on them during the summer pasture season. I agreed completely - and his cows were absolutely beautiful and the picture of health out there on pasture where we were walking. They also had a few mixed breed which were bred to Belgian blue cattle, which are beef animals with double muscling of their hind legs. Cows bred to a Belgian blue bull usually need to have a C-section done to deliver the calf (I participated in this half a dozen times while in veterinary training there). The MRY and Fleckvieh can be gotten as frozen semen in case anyone is interested.

We had an interesting conversation about problems in his herd, which aren't many, mainly due his grazing. When he learned that I work with organic farmers (termed biologic over there), the first question he had for me was what to do about flies. Now that is a tough one to start out with! However, I did mention the Betadine (termed iodium over there) with sugar for foot problems. He doesn't experience any twisted stomachs, but a neighbor of his does as well as the neighbor having a lot of coliform mastitis problems. Apparently, that neighbor has recently begun to confine his cows at all times and bought quota to expand his herd somewhat. If I understood him right, there aren't many farms larger than 500 cows in Holland and only about 10-15% do total confinement.

I thought I'd point out those "happy lines" I saw on their cows and his wife said "oh them, we call them Gezond Strijpen (Health Stripes)" which I think is probably a lot better term to use and will continue to use that. It's nice when farmers across the ocean know the same pleasant farming terms as the this side of the ocean. Another good health indicator is to look for darkened oval areas of fur along the neck near where it meets the brisket ? apparently a good sign of rumen health as well.

Anyhow, since that was my first vacation in 10 years, I thought I'd write about it since some of you found out I was gone when calling in. Another nice thing about being with family, extended family and life long friends in Holland is that I could practice my Dutch, which is different from Pennsylvania Dutch by the way. Both languages are derived from high German but developed separately. I can understand it completely but speak it passably. So for now, "tot ziens" - see you later!

 

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