There was nothing at all wrong with the cows the Peters family used to have. If they were milked three times a day, each provided an annual average of 11,000 kilos of milk, with 4.2 percent fat and 3.5 percent protein. Wonderful! But they were unable to reduce phosphate emissions enough in line with Dutch regulations. So the Peters had to part with 91 of their 291 cows, which then meant they could no longer cover their costs. The farm was in the red, while phosphate rights were becoming more expensive. “We had to change something,” says farmer Willy Peters.
He had always had an interest in Jersey cows, which supply enormous quantities of milk. “These cows use a kilogram of feed more efficiently than other breeds when it comes to generating fat and protein,” says Peters, 51. The relatively small animals do not need much feed in order to gain weight. The calculations seemed clear: based on the phosphate allowance, he could keep 100 Holstein cows, or 130 Jersey cows. The change would also mean the family would no longer have to expand their facilities, built in 1974, as Jersey cows are smaller than Holstein cows.
But where would they get hold of a hundred Jersey cows? The family found an initial group of 35 cows in Denmark. “The fat content in the tank was over 5 percent within just a few days!” They bought another 250 cows at another Danish farm. They sold their herd of 185 Holstein cows and the 250 Jersey cows arrived the same week. “When the transport vehicles arrived, we wondered whether the cows would even go into the milking barn. But after one cow went ahead, the others followed without any trouble at all.” In terms of their character, the cows tend to be curious and enjoy contact with people.
“That’s why we love them so much.” The current herd consists of 280 Jersey cows, which are milked twice a day in a milking parlor with two sets of seven spaces. Daily, each cows produces about 22 kilos of milk. The most recent measurements showed the milk had 6.67 percent fat and 4.39 percent protein. The Jersey cows eat 19 kilos of dry fodder while the Holsteins ate more than 23 kilos. They are fed green fodder and corn with concentrates as a total mixed ration. To achieve the high milk content levels, the Jersey cows need a relatively large amount of concentrate, Peters says.
"These cows use a kilo of feed more efficiently than any other breed, when it comes to fat and protein."
Farmer Willy Peters from Sint Anthonis
One disadvantage with the cows is that they are small and very lean, so if they don’t eat for a day, they could be in difficulties the following day due to calcium deficiency. “These animals have no reserves,” Peters says. “So if a calf has diarrhea, I give it water with an electrolyte, but the second time around I have to give it milk to make up for the loss of energy.” It is also more expensive if a Jersey cow does not work out, as one costs 1,700 euros, but only brings in 300 euros when sold, as they provide little meat. “That’s why it’s important to prevent any losses.” And because the animals do not have much in the way of reserves, farmers have to pay very close attention to spot any changes from normal and intervene swiftly if needed. Each animal wears a collar with sensors that are connected to the farmer's smartphone. The sensors measure the behavior of each individual cow, from when it last ate to how long it took, when it started to chew cud, if it is struggling with heat stress and other factors. Each cow has a number and an app shows the data for each individual animal in real time.
The Peters family has been working with the Jersey cows for almost three years and would never look back, they say. Why would they? “I can now keep far more animals with my phosphate quota than I could with my old herd.”