That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Marnix Knetemann, Noorderweg, Wijdewormer, Holland of KnedoStables.nl, in this week’s Suckler Farming Focus.
He discusses life as a suckler farmer in Holland, a passion for Red Belgian Blues, culling cows after three calvings, focusing on a heavier cow type, selling beef direct and challenges.
“I run a suckler enterprise with my partner, Emmie. Farming is not a real family tradition as in direct farming, but my grandfather, his father, and grandfather were butchers who always held and fattened their own beef.
Outside of school, during weekends and holidays, I would always be at our grandparents helping out my grandfather if possible.
In the late 60s, my grandfather started to breed heavy/double-muscled (only Dutch improved red/white or improved black/white) cattle and fatten them for his own butcher shop.
In the late 70s and early 80s, he imported 12 in-calf Blonde d’Aquitaine cows and heifers to add to the breeding stock.
From that herd, my grandfather ‘Blue-ed’ up the cattle, first by importing a stock bull (Expo van het Kasteeltje) from Belgium and a few other imports of cows, heifers and every two or three years, one or two new stock bulls followed.
He upgraded this to a herd of just over 200 head of cattle from 2000-2004 on 80 hectares of grassland.
After secondary school, I studied biology/medical biology for one year in Amsterdam and veterinary for two years in Gent (Belgium). The only agri-diploma I have is my AI-diploma and tractor licence.
Suckler cows: Red Belgian Blue cattle
Now, we have 12 suckler cows and the rest of the total of our 50-head of calves, young heifers, young bulls and stock bulls. Almost all cows are pedigree-bred and pedigree registered with CRV.
We have 12 hectares, of which we use half for grazing the cows and horses and the other half for hay and silage harvesting.
We mainly have (red) Belgian Blues and Dutch Improved Red (Verbeterd Roodbont), a Dutch native beef cattle breed, and a few commercial crossed cattle.
The beef is of high quality, they are very docile, and growth is good
Our two most influential cow families are ‘Ferdinandus’-line, of which we have the more heavy muscular cattle, and our ‘Laura’-line. The ‘Laura’-line is quite more easy calving and more robust type.
Out of the big herd, I started ten years ago with one red heifer, Knedo Susan, ‘Ferdinandus’-line sired by our stockbull Patamon van Knedo.
This is the sire of Us Heit van Knedo and one blue cow, Knedo Potesse RBF, ‘just’ started breeding. I purchased one or two cows from a colleague like Vega du Falgi-daughter: Lotteke van Olieboerke, a massive cow.
AI and stockbull
We use AI and stock bulls; every breeding cow/heifer is AI’d across three rounds.
If a better-type cow or heifer is not in-calf around this period, we run them with one of our stock bulls.
This summer, our two-year-old and over 1100 kg, stockbull Jandlis Us Bolke (by Kobus4 out of an Us Heit van Knedo cow), will go with the herd for the second year.
Our other stockbull, Knedo De Vlaeminck (by Leonardus van de Uilenvlucht out of a Stijn van Halfweg cow) just got home from a breeding period within the herd of a colleague and is our ‘runner-up’.
We use mainly semen from home-bred bulls to keep a more different genetic profile than other farmers or from AI in Holland and or Belgium but also purchased from Canada and Germany.
Moreover, we have previously used ET on the better-producing cows of whom we do not have any female progeny with a view to hopefully securing the same dam line.
We calve the herd from the end of October until the end of May, so we have the summer ‘free’ for harvesting hay and silage, and participating in cattle- and horse shows, as besides cattle, we also now breed Arabian horses and ponies as a hobby.
We tend to keep the grass growing during grazing by rotating cattle/horses on several pastures.
Starting a dairy farm on our home farm is just not possible due to the small size and design of the buildings, so breeding and training was the only game that could work, but I wanted to do something besides that.
When it comes to cows, it is a case of the heavier, the better slaughter carcass for our starting farm shop, from which we sell our home-bred and fed beef.
Moreover, most butchers for whom we also fatten our cattle want to have an S-graded 450, max 500 kg carcass.
We keep all heifers as replacements and sell better quality bulls for breeding. Then we fatten or sell secondary bulls up to 500-550 kg carcass weight.
Furthermore, we fatten cows for slaughter after two or three calvings. They weigh around 500/600kgs, and the good-producing cows stay on longer.
Most cows calf once a year. If they are not in-calf in the autumn, we fatten them for slaughter during the winter months. However, if this happens with one or two of our better breeding cows, which are not in-calf, we start AI’ing in February.
Keeping your cattle up and feeding, keeping your fences up, keeping costs low, and keeping your spirit and breeding passion up are among the key elements of running a successful suckling enterprise.
Seeing the outcome of the breeding growing in the herd on the pasture is one of the most enjoyable aspects.
Like Irish farmers, the costs of straw, feed and gas are among the biggest challenges. Moreover, expanding the herd is not possible as we farm from a base of 12 hectares.
Land prices make it almost impossible to purchase pastures against dairy farmers.
Societies and shows
We are members of the Dutch Improved Red Herdbook (Vereniging Nederlands Stamboek Verbeterd Roodbont Vleesras) and the Dutch Belgian Blue Herdbook. I am Vice-president of the Dutch Improved Red Herdbook.
In Holland, we have ‘Paasveetentoonstelling’ (Easter shows), besides the pedigree/herdbook shows during the summer/autumn, and we try always to compete if our herd health status (IBR and Lepto-free, and vaccinate against BVD) allows.
We had several first prizes and champions over the years. This spring, our Knedo Dian, sired by Leonardus van de Uilenvlucht, won the championship for young cows.
Farmers are not always rewarded for the quality progeny they are producing.
However, luckily, some breeders are willing to reward the quality of a young or proven stock bull as they know what such an animal can add to their herd.”
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