German dairy operator KoePon has switched to Jersey cows and converted to organics, Sjoerd Hofstee reports.

KoePon Germany exchanged Holstein-Friesian cows for Jerseys in 2017, switched the entire dairy farm to organic in 2018 and opened a brand new dairy barn with eight milking robots last year.

“Even in east Germany, you don’t get along very well with critics, but I believe that our type of business is future-proof on all sides,” says company manager Dinand Kippers.

Dutch entrepreneur and multimillionaire Wijnand Pon has a lifelong love of dairy farming and has set up dairy farms in various places worldwide, including Schwerin, in east Germany.

Two dairy barns, each with 500 milking Jerseys, are a few kilometres from each other. A completely new stable was put into use last year on the edge of the village of Brüel. At KoePon Kaarz, the original site of KoePon in Germany set up in 1993, 500 Jerseys are milked in a 32-stand Fullwood carousel. In Brüel, eight Lely A5 milking robots have been installed in the center of the barn, four oriented to each side, so the cows walk through in mirrored groups of about 250 animals.

“One group grazes during the day, the other at night. That is one of the most important changes for this company when we switched to organic: compulsory grazing,” says Dinand Kippers (56). He has lived and worked in east Germany for 24 years.

Kippers often get asked why Jerseys are being milked rather than Holstein- Friesians.

“‘I can list all the advantages of less water and feed consumption for maintenance, higher feed efficiency, lower CO₂ emissions and the high levels of fat and protein in the milk. All those arguments played a part. But the main reason was that Wijnand wanted to milk Jersey cows. He thinks the cows are beautiful and the sales share of this breed continues to grow strongly at AltaGenetics (also a Pon company), especially in the United States. Hence this wish.’

KowPon Germany consists of a total of four business units. Dairy cattle, arable farming, sheep and biogas. The dairy farm has 1000 dairy cows, 1000 young cattle and 2000 hectares of fully organic land, while 2500 sheep are run at a third location.

The arable farm is run in combination with biogas. A total of 73 people work at all company locations, supplemented by eight trainees with managers for each business unit.

“All cows calve at KoePon Kaarz,” Kippers says. “The youngest calves also stay there, and then they can quickly move to the location where the young stock is also.”

Most of the required feed is grown on the 2000ha of the dairy farm. Several hundred hectares at both locations are mainly used as pasture plots. There is also a seven to eight-year cultivation plan in which grass-clover serves as the main crop.

“Our livestock gives us manure that we can use, but that is relatively little on so many hectares. That is why leguminous crops such as clovers, which themselves fix nitrogen for growth and protein formation in the crop, are indispensable. If the grass-clover cultivation succeeds, the other crops often succeed as well.”

A plot often has grass-clover two years in a row, followed by crops such as alfalfa, field beans, silage maize or soybeans year after year. On the arable farms winter wheat, field grass and summer grain are grown.

“We grow more than 210ha of silage maize for dairy cattle and we are expanding the cultivation of soybeans from 50 to 100ha this year.”

“Not because silage maize does not grow well here or does not fit. With an average

of 550mm of rain annually, grass is difficult and maize fits better, but purchasing protein is extremely expensive, which means that we continue to reduce maize cultivation.”

Danish x American Jerseys

The Jerseys purchased in 2017 came from Denmark. They are a type of Jersey with a clearly higher percentage tendency than the American Jerseys.

“We now breed with American Jerseys, mainly because they have demonstrably better udders. From our current herd, too many animals already end up in the danger zone after three or four calvings due to an udder that is too deep.”

The Jerseys calve on average at 24 months. “You don’t have to try later, the heifers quickly become too fat for calving then.”

The replacement percentage last year was 22%. Pregnancies come largely through sexed semen. The bulls that are born, for example from a cross with a Belgian Blue beef bull, go to a separate rearing location. The meat of the Jersey bulls is sold in-house because the demand for Jersey bull calves is also very low in Germany.

“In the current market, an 18-month-old Jersey bull will fetch around €900 ($NZ1520) to €1000 ($NZ1688). Then it’s still okay. Previously it was only €400. Of course that is far too low to cover the costs.’

The milk production of the 1000 Jerseys last year averaged 6400kg per cow with 5.85% fat and 4.10% protein. After the switch to organic, production dropped slightly and Kippers foresees a slight further drop over the next few years.

In March this year KoePon received a milk price of €74.44 per 100kg. This includes all allowances and the supplementary payment that Arla recently paid for last year. Conventional dairy farms received, on the basis of 4.2% fat and 3.4% protein, all added up in the same month ‘only’ €46.46.

In June this year, the milk price clearly increased even further. The components on the KoePon herd fell to 5.2% fat and 3.95% protein at the end of May, but due to a higher payment, the milk price has already added up to about €0.80 per kilo.

The Arla factory in Upahl (Hansa) which KoePon supplies, does not use the rich Jersey milk for cheese, but for daily fresh dairy products.

“Still, they are very happy with it and pay us extra premiums. That is because they often struggled to achieve a 3.8% fat content in the summer. A minimum that is necessary. This has been possible with our Jersey milk in recent years. Because transport is a major cost item here, we also receive a handsome quantum addition.’

In Germany, Arla has been working with supermarket chain Aldi for some time on a concept in which (organic) dairy will be sold under a label: milk produced solely from German feed.

“We already grow more than 85% of our feed ourselves and we source few raw materials from abroad. That should be feasible for our type of company.” Aldi pays participants an extra €4 cents/kg. “That means about € 275,000 in income for us on an annual basis. Well worth it,’ says Kippers. The plan was first shelved as a result of the war in Ukraine, but Kippers expects it to be implemented in the coming years.

“It also proves to me that the business setup we have here is future-proof. By that I mean, organic in combination with own cultivation of feed for the livestock. This is possible because we are a mixed company. In fact, old-fashioned is becoming modern again. Because of what the market and society demand. With the important difference that the scale is different than before.”