In conversation with...
Filip and Anja from dairy farm De Brabander LV
Filip (49) and Anja (47) De Brabander-Vandierendonck have enjoyed running a dairy farm with 260 dairy cows together in the municipality of Zomergem (Lievegem) Belgium for the past 27 years. The dairy cows are housed in a cow cubicle shed with rubber mats and milked in a 40-stand Boumatic outdoor milking machine. The milk is then transported to Friesland Campina in Aalter. The calves make use of VDK Agri housing. “Rearing a newborn calf to become a healthy, highly productive dairy cow is our main goal – and good housing plays a part in this.”
Every day, Filip and Anja begin milking the cows at 6 a.m. After milking, Filip cleans the carousel and Anja feeds the calves. The calves are given 2 to 3 litres of milk on the basis of 180 grams of milk powder per litre twice a day. The milk is administered using a milk taxi. Anja explains: “From day 2 to day 10, the amount of milk given is slowly increased from 2 to 3 litres each feed. From day 65 to day 80, we reduce the amount of milk administered again slowly down to 0. In addition to the milk, the calves receive unlimited feed concentrate and hay.” As soon as the carousel is clean, Filip feeds the dairy cows, the young stock and the dry cows. He also observes and handles the cows requiring attention which have been selected by the HerdMetrix program. Anja does the administration, gives the calves feed concentrate, hay and fresh water and cleans out the hutches. In the evenings, most of the work has to be repeated again.
What do you believe is important when rearing calves?
“We attach a great deal of important to hygiene, as only then can you keep the calves healthy. But a good colostrum supply always comes first. That means that we give a calf 4 litres of colostrum as soon as it is born, and then another 4 litres in the next 24 hours”, explains Anja. “A calf with no appetite is given the colostrum using the probe. Whatever else happens, that first 4 litres of colostrum must be administered in the first four hours – that’s vital. What’s more, we always check whether all the calves are drinking their milk smoothly. If they’re not, we help them with this and check what the matter is. If a calf has diarrhoea, for example, we administer electrolytes and the necessary medication right away, until the diarrhoea has passed. Early intervention can prevent many problems.”
What do you do to prevent health problems in the calves?
“We vaccinate all cows six weeks before calving with the Rotavec Corona vaccine. We used to vaccinate them against influenza too, but we no longer do that now. By ensuring that housing is good-quality and clean, it is possible to prevent many problems. We like the VDK Agri igloos a lot. Compared to previous housing, they last much longer and the climate in the hutches is much better. I think that this is due to the larger openings, making the air flow calmer and ensuring a fresh climate in the hutches at all times”, explains Filip. The calf hutches are always cleaned thoroughly after use using a high-pressure cleaner before being disinfected. “The advantage of the VDK Agri hutches is its smooth surface and the round edges, making them very easy to clean and disinfect.”
Why do you opt for outdoor housing?
Anja explains: “We only house our heifer calves outside. The bull calves are housed separately within the shed. However, I am convinced that housing the animals outdoors in Igloos has its benefits. The climate is better, there are fewer germs and the housing is much better to clean.” The heifer calves remain in the igloos for a month. They then go in small groups in the VDK Agri XL 5 with fencing and are fed using a VDK Agri CombiFeeder XL. “We currently have four of these group hutches in use. This works brilliantly. Another reason for opting for VDK Agri products again is that they are very well made. Our first igloos are already over 20 years old and they still work fantastically.”
How did things go during the warm summer months?
“Brilliantly. In the VDK Agri hutches, our calves were barely bothered by the high temperatures. However, that was not the case with the plastic hutches we previously had. It was very warm inside our old plastic hutches and the smaller openings meant that there was much less ventilation, thereby increasing the likelihood of the animals catching the flu or developing respiratory problems”, explains Anja. “Another benefit of the VDK Agri hutches is the self-closing feeding fence. It makes it easy to secure the animals if I want to handle them.” Once the calves have been housed outdoors for three months, they are moved indoors.
What do you believe is characteristic of VDK Agri?
Filip: “To summarise in a few words: very good quality, long life, easy to clean and much less labour intensive. Thanks to their long life and the added value these products have for our calf rearing, they are certainly worth the investment. Only with good-quality housing can you turn a newborn calf into a highly productive dairy cow. I am certain of that.” Anja adds: “As the person caring for the calves, it makes me happy when our calves feel good and are happy. That’s something that I take great pleasure from. I can also be sure that they are growing properly and are healthy.”