“I recommend it to everyone”Edwin Veldhuijzen
Dairy farm Veldhoeve, owned by Edwin Veldhuijzen (42), is surrounded by fields and situated on a country road in Zoeterwoude. He lives there with his friend Lisa (39, works with the judiciary) and daughters Bonita (12) and Nikki (4). Edwin's parents and co-owners Sjaak and Wilma also live on the same premises in a secondary residential unit added as an extension behind the cosy dwelling. Together with his father, Edwin mans the 75-cow dairy farm, where the introduction of a BouMatic Robotics milking robot has made a big difference.
It has been in the cowshed since June 2012: the MR-D1™. "The first twin stall BouMatic Robotics has ever built", says Edwin with no small pride. And it came just at the right moment. "Our old milking parlour, for eight milking units, was getting too old and too small. Moreover the daily work here is done by my father and I. Up to now that goes well, but last year my father turned 65 and, although he is still healthy, that can change in the future. So I was looking for a less labour-intensive system. We have already been milking for 25 years with BouMatic equipment, and our dealer told us that a sister-company was being started up which was going to focus on milking robots. Would I like to come for a chat?"
Edwin didn't need telling twice: its three years ago now that he went for a chat with BouMatic Robotics. "On their invitation I went and had a look in Friesland at what was probably the first test version. That did not work correctly, but I could see through that. The procedure appealed to me immediately. Actually I had a good feeling about it straight away."
It was of course quite exciting when the stall was installed at Edwin's. "We had a good back-up; we could keep the old milking parlour intact and begin with a group of twenty cows on the robot. For this we chose cows which were more in lactation, which means they had calved more than a hundred days previously. In the initial period after calving cows are namely more susceptible; to illness but also to change. Cows like structure; they are real creatures of habit. So we started with a small group of stress-resistant animals. After a week it went so well that we added twelve to the group; then we had about half on the new and half still on the old system. After another week we put all cows onto the robot and said a definite farewell to the old method of milking.
Not only was it a switch for the cows, but also of course for Edwin. "The first two months I had to invest a lot of hours and deal with various cows quite a lot, because there were some who found it difficult. Besides this they had to stay indoors last summer to get used to it, which meant I had more to do: in order to feed them properly I had to mow the grass every day and bring it into the cowshed. But hopefully that won't be necessary this year. My rhythm has changed: I used to go into the stall at half past five in the morning to do the first milking round. After that I saw all cows as they passed by and I knew if there was anything the matter. No I don't see them any more while milking. As a farmer you see your cows in another light and treat them differently. Walk more rounds around the cowshed to see if everything is OK. In this respect it is helpful that the milking robot saves all sorts of information about the cows, such as how often they come and how much they move about outside the robot. If any irregularities show up, then you know you must investigate the cow in question more closely."
Generally speaking Edwin sees a lot of advantages with his milking robot. "It saves me hours of work every day", he says briefly and to the point. "We were busy milking and the related clean-up for six hours a day. Apart from that there were the other activities, such as feeding, maintenance of the premises, cutting the grass, making milk products, you name it. Off the cuff, I save about three hours a day with the robot. That is a lot, because that goes for seven days a week the whole year round. However the exact number of hours you save is of course dependant on the size of your previous milking parlour. But in my case it really does make that much difference. Glad too, because if nothing had changed I had run into a fix with work in the future.
His family also reaps the benefits of the time that Edwin has left over every day: "Now I start at half past six in the morning, so I can lie in an hour longer. I used never to be in to eat in the evening before half past seven. I was getting tired of it, they are long days, from half past five to half past seven. Sometimes you want to do something different of an evening, for instance to go somewhere, and that was not possible before. Now I eat at half past six and if I have to even at six o'clock. It is no longer a problem to take the children somewhere or to pick them up. And if they have something interesting at school in the afternoon I can be there too."
Besides the enormous time-saving, Edwin had still more advantages with his new milking equipment. Such as financially, as he explains: "The robot was delivered out-of-the-box, pretty well ready for use, so we could just shove it into the cowshed. It doesn't take up much room and I could put it in the old shed. If I had chosen a new milking parlour, then I would have had to build another cowshed for it and it would have been much more expensive. It was no option to do nothing: my old milking parlour wouldn't have lasted another five years..."
Add to this, not unimportant, higher milk production. The cows used to be milked twice a day, now it is nearly three times. "So in theory you should get more milk In the end. That is not so from the start though: in the first few months after purchasing the milking robot milk production even decreased a little. But that was because the cows had to get used to it. They had to develop a totally different rhythm and be using the robot day and night. But now it all works well, they do fine. I've never had such high milk production."
And that is indeed good for Edwin's business. At the moment 75% of production is allocated to Friesland Campina, who collect the milk three times a week. Edwin himself makes various products from the rest of the milk in his dairy processing area: buttermilk, drinking yoghurt and Moroccan yoghurt. The first two mentioned are sold in his own farm shop, (along with whole milk), it can be very busy there in the weekends. The last product mentioned is earmarked for a Moroccan wholesaler; about 80% of Edwin's milk for self-processing goes there. "And my dairy sales grow steadily. A good thing too, because it earns more."
The business is being expanded further now: girlfriend Lisa has completed furnishing a holiday home on the premises, and in the future a farm camp site will be realised.
The possibilities grew thanks to the successful functioning of the milking robot. "I can recommend it to everyone", Edwin states. "And I know more farmers are considering the change-over. Some are anxious about their milk quality. My experience is that that is not necessary, the quality hasn't been affected. Then I would not have been able to make my products, because making dairy products is a very precise work which requires hygiene and consistency.
He is very satisfied with the collaboration with BouMatic Robotics. "That was one of the reasons I took the challenge, because I had a lot of faith in the company. I had visited the office in Emmeloord and there I saw a professional organization which was prepared to go for it. Putting something new on the market, which nobody else had done before. The milk robot was a prestigious project for them which was not allowed to fail. And in my view that has certainly not happened."
Have you become interested in Edwin's business? Then do come and pay us a visit. To buy delicious products in the farm shop, or just: "People may always come here to look around", says the farmer. "Even if it is only to show their children what a farm is and where milk comes from. That is important for us. We notice too that there is increasing demand for pure products: even people who live in big towns have an eye for that and are prepared to pay a little more for the knowledge that their milk comes from the farm up the road, with no artificial junk added. We are keen to give them this opportunity."
For more information: www.veldhoevezuivel.nl
Broekweg 2, Zoeterwoude