At 3 locations, Arjan and Karin Backx keep a total of almost 3,000 cows, with each one being important to them. Despite rapid expansion Arjan never has given up his high standard of quality.
At the time when Arjan Backx came to Germany, his parents run an 80-cow dairy farm in the Netherlands. To enter into the parental operation was no option for that then 24-year-old. After having taken a look around the world, that Dutchman finally ended up in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 2006. ‘I had nothing but cows in my mind, and for that “Meck-Pom” was just the ticket. I was not in need of a social environment back then,’ says Arjan. For a period of 2 years he worked as a herd manager – always with the end in view to have an own farm some day. In 2008 the opportunity arose, and young Backx purchased the farm now operating under the name of Vanselow Dairy GmbH. ‘My parents supported me with the financing of the purchase. The fact that I came home less and less often probably has shown them that I was serious about Germany.’
His original plan was the purchase of a 200-cow herd. The fact that Vanselow Dairy GmbH comprised even 380 cows was no problem. Quite the contrary! ‘In times of the milk crisis my motto was “Grit your teeth and get to it”. Since a number of herds gave up I was able to continue to expand.’ Arjan Backx purchased several herds, built a new barn and acquired a neighboring farm, today’s Alt Tellin Dairy GmbH. At present a total of 2,100 cows plus 1,800 head of young stock are housed at both sites. The Dutchman is especially proud of the rotary milking parlor at Vanselow. He was intensely involved in the planning of that BouMatic 60-stall external rotary parlor that allows 2 employees to milk 360 cows per hour, so one cow every 10 seconds! At Alt Tellin, 2 milkers handle “only” 200 cows per hour in the DeLaval external rotary parlor with 50 stalls. On both farms the cows are milked 3 times a day.
Even though there are 2 spatially divided farms, you have the impression as if it would be just one large-scale herd. Alt Tellin exclusively is the milking facility. All dry cows and the entire young stock are housed in Vanselow. Ass soon as a cow is pregnant again it will be brought back to Alt Tellin.
At both sites, herd manager Carsten Huber-Schweizer makes sure things run smoothly. Ten employees are from Germany and 24 are from Poland, with several among them living now permanently in Germany. ‘The majority of our milkers works 14 days and then spends one week in Poland,’ explains Arjan Backx. ‘Only a small section of job candidates has prior knowledge of dairy farming at recruitment, though the experienced colleagues break them in thoroughly. Initially we’ve found new employees with the help of an agency, but today it works with word-of-mouth recommendation, and we don’t need to search actively anymore. We don’t find any German workforce – except for tractor drivers or calf handlers. To me it is important that my people put their heart and soul into it. I would like to pay higher wages, though at the milk price we can realize I’m happy if we end up with all expenses being covered.’
Milchhof Neuensund is a third farm managed by the “expat” from the Netherlands. Since 2012, Arjan and his wife Karin run this dairy farm that Karin’s father used to run before. Located about 70 km away from Vanselow and Alt Tellin, Milchhof Neuensund houses 900 cows plus young stock. The authorization to expand the herd to 1,400 cows is granted already. However, the herd will only be expanded if there is sufficient feed available – and then exclusively with the own young stock. By the way, the house, where Arjan, Karin and their 4 children live, as well as the office, from where all 3 sites are managed, are also situated in Neuensund.
‘Each animal is important’
‘If an enterprise grows to such an extent in such a short period of time and if you frequently need to reorganize systems, then quality can fall by the wayside occasionally. However, I demand high standards. I feel uneasy if the average per day slides below 30 kg of milk. If you don’t want to go down, you must make the maximum of it. Even so – and that’s important to me – the cows must be doing well at it. Whether it is 100 cows or 1,000 – it’s about animals, and each one is important. And that’s exactly what we put across our staff,’ underlines Arjan Backx.
The milk produced on all 3 farms goes to Uckermärker Milch GmbH. Kosher milk is also produced on a regular basis, with a rabbi supervising the milking process. Cows that underwent surgery must not be milked, and milk must not be stored in the tank for more than 24 hours. In addition, strict hygiene measures must be observed.
The fact that each animal actually is important can also be detected by means of the case that it will be inseminated until it is pregnant. Inseminations and hoof trimming are handled through staff members. Once per week the vet takes blood samples for pregnancy checks. All animals with negative results enter the OvSynch program.
Five years ago, a sire had to provide 2,000 kg of milk. Today it’s the health traits that count. Arjan Backx: ‘All our cows would be able to produce 12,000 kg of milk, though they also shall grow old and breed back easily. That saves a lot of work and is efficient.’
At Vanselow and Alt Tellin, 90 % of the genetics hail from CRV sires. Arjan has rapport with his CRV advisor, Ehler Weidenhöfer. ‘Ehler comes up to us 3 or 4 times per year. I coordinate with him on the breeding goal and agree upon a bull package. What sires are finally used will be decided through the responsible staff members on the farms. In case I have any problem Ehler cares for solutions. Another reason for our cooperation with CRV is the top cost-benefit ratio.’ Arjan currently doesn’t use beef sires. After the purchase of Alt Tellin, the poor genetics must be replaced first and foremost.
At times Arjan Backx finds it hard to believe that his former plan to purchase 200 cows finally resulted in almost 3,000 cows. ‘It’s just great how everything has developed, though I miss the active times in the barn. There are problems with both large-scale and small operations. However, if you are on the wrong track, then it goes fast,’ he says. And: ‘There don’t need to be more cows. But who knows – there are chances that should not be missed. At present, the cows average 10,500 kg at 3.90 % fat and 3.40 % protein, and the average lifetime production is 32,000 kg. It has still to become more… but not to the expense of quality!’
To the question, whether there is something else he wants to “get off his chest”, Arjan Backs replies: ‘Without my wife Karin all that wouldn’t be possible at all. She does most of the administration work, attends to the personnel matters and supports me wherever possible!’
Vanselow Dairy GmbH, Schlossstraße 2, D-17111 Siedenbrünzow
Alt Tellin Dairy GmbH, Dorfstraße 46, D-17129 Alt Tellin
- Work force: 34 staff members
- Herd: 2,100 dairy cows plus young stock
- Average production: 10,500 kg milk at 3.90 % fat and 3.40 % protein
- Average lifetime production: 32,000 kg
- Milking equipment: BouMatic 60-stall external rotary parlor at Vanselow and DeLaval external rotary parlor with 50 stalls at Alt Tellin
- Insemination index: 2.6
- Ration: grass & corn silage, grass chaff, brewer’s grains, soy meal, rapeseed meal, rye meal & corn meal plus minerals
- Acreage: 1,800 ha, with approx. 700 ha plow land and 1,100 ha pastureland
- Current CRV sires: Lendor, Dubai PP, Natan, Shiner P and Salinero