By Trudy Wastweet and Kelly Young
Saturday we spent in the countryside in an area of Lower Saxony that is well known for its intensive animal production. Lower Saxony is a state in the Northwest of Germany, bordering the Netherlands. This area in Germany does not have very rich soil, but still ranks number one in gross farm receipts in the country because of its poultry, pork and dairy production here.
We began at the Teepker Family's farm near Handrup. Out of four brothers, Stefan Teepker runs the broiler chicken farm and Mattias runs the farrow to finish hog farm. While the Teepker family wholly owns the hog enterprise, the chicken farm is a joint enterprise of the Teepker brothers and several neighboring farmers. The broiler chickens are grown under a unique contract grower arrangement with Rothkotter Company (see Friday's journal entry) by which chicks and most feed are purchased from Rothkotter, some feed ingredients are purchased separately off the local market, and all production practices and audits meet Rothkotter standards.
The broiler (meat) chickens are marketed directly to the Rothkotter slaughterhouse near Meppen. Additionally, the chicken barns (built in 2009) have solar panels--taking full advantage of the large roofs. The solar power is sold off the farm at a premium rate to the power grid, and then the farm buys back cheaper energy from the local utility provider. The premium price is funded via taxpayer dollars for the next 20 years under a federal renewable energy law--which has acquired growing public and political criticism in recent years for its growing budget and community issues caused by land competition and siting opposition.
The Teepker' s plans for expansion of their 1000 sow hog farm in 2003 were timely--more than a decade before the new animal welfare standards for sow housing were to be fully required by European Union countries. The family chose to install a loose housing system of small groups of 35 gestating sows in an electronic feeding pen--only four weeks of stall gestation are permitted to ensure pregnancy after artificial insemination. As early adopters of this system, they found themselves making many adjustments to equipment and management of the animals...learning over time how to best sort and pen the sows for stable groups.
After farrowing, the family sells nearly two-thirds of their hogs as 28 kg feeder pigs (20,000 head) and finishing the rest to market weight at their own farm. The dairy farm of Mr. Hartwig Meyer was our afternoon stop. Mr. Meyer is a certified Master Farmer and the farm has won the prestigious Golden-Olga award for dairy production. The farm has a strong per cow average milk production of 24,250 lbs/year versus 18,700 lbs/year average for the state. For comparison, the average in New York state is just over 20,000 lbs/year.
Mr. Meyer is very involved in breeding and sells bulls and heifers for their genetics, recently selling a two month-old heifer that we saw in the youngstock group for 25,000 Euro. Much of his bloodlines are from the U.S. and Canada, however with greater interest (and pressure from government officials in the region), he is now heavily selecting for the polled genes (meaning the animals naturally do not have horns).
This farm is located in town, literally right across a narrow street from neighboring homes. He has a good relationship with the community, but his proximity and the bevy of state and federal laws that are unfriendly to expansion means that he won't be able to grow beyond the 250 cows he has on the farm now (milking 200). Manure regulations are challenging for farmers here as there is not enough land to spread all the nutrients. This farmer separates manure and uses the solids for bedding, uses some on his cropland, and has to pay for the rest to be removed to the southern part of the country that has a need for it. Our visit ended here with a beautiful cake and coffee break with the farmer and his wife, where we shared stories about dairy, hydrofracking and politics in both countries. It was noticeable that all the farmers in this region noted the intense competition for land. It prevents more growth, makes manure management very challenging and places livestock farmers and those with biogas production plants at odds over the corn grown here.
Our day ended with a tour and dinner at a brewery outside Hanover. The small-batch brewery was 150 years old. However, that is nothing compared to the law that it is governed by: breweries still operate under a law from 1560 which says there can only be 3 ingredients (water, malted barley and hops), because this is before they knew there was yeast involved. Obviously the brewery has been able to produce beer, but the law hasn't changed!