Happy Father’s Day!…if you’re in Germany that is. Also, Happy Ascension Day! Ascension Day marks the 40th Day of Easter and is a public holiday in Germany celebrating the ascension of Jesus to heaven. Today, we rose bright and early to enjoy our free breakfast buffet before a short hour and a half drive to Wahrenholz, where Drs. Helmut and Ingrid Surborg welcomed us into their home. Dr. Helmut Surborg is a large animal practitioner specializing in cattle diseases and was also a vet school classmate of Dr. Hoenig. His wife, Ingrid, practices mixed animal medicine. Their home also contains their own small animal clinic. Ingrid just so happens to be a winemaker’s daughter so we were greeted with a delicious glass of port wine upon entering their house.
Soon after, we were back in the vans cruising across town to visit a dairy in Betzhorn. Mr Helmut Evers greeted us and gave us a brief history of the dairy before we began our tour. The farm has been in his family for over 500 years! Since about 1480 it has been passed down through generations of dairy farmers. The farm focuses primarily on dairy cows but they also work with other farmers in the area to grow rice, sugar, grain, and beans on the surrounding crop land.
When calves are born they are kept with their mother for the first feeding and then are moved to their own private hutches, where they receive a hearty diet of colostrum for 5 more days. Within one day of birth, calves are legally required to have official ear tags placed in each ear. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to see Mr. Evers demonstrate this process to us. When the ID tag is place in the ear, there is a small tube where a tiny punch of ear tissue is contained and later can be sent off for BVD testing. The information for these calves and the results of their tests are recorded on their “passports”. After about a week calves are moved to “kuh kindergarten”, a pen containing calves between 1 to 5 weeks of age. Each of these calves is then fitted with stylish collars toting a transponder that enables them to feed from a computerized milk feeder. After kindergarten the calves graduate to a larger pen of cows from 5 weeks to 5 months of age. This enclosure has an outdoor fenced in area as well as a large, covered, igloo-style hutch.Near to this enclosure there is a picturesque little pasture for dry cows to graze and laze in the open air.
Mr. Evers explained that his cows are artificially inseminated and he performs this procedure himself. There is currently about 80 cows on the farm. The cows in the milking parlor are milked twice a day. They take daily samples of the milk and test it for SSC, fat, protein, and antibiotic content roughly once per week and then test for CFU’s about every other week. Mr. Ever’s cows are currently able to boast a SSC of less than 170,000….that’s some quality milk. His milk is purchased by a local bakery and is also purchased to make butter at a creamery.
Mr Evers also spoke at length about the feeding protocol for his cows. The cows are kept on tightly regulated diets, as their nutritional needs change throughout their growing and milking cycles. Extensive diets contain more straw and grass whereas intensive diets will contain more grain. Most of the feed is mixed on the farm, and is regularly analyzed for content to ensure the cows are receiving sufficient protein, fat, etc.
When our time at the dairy was done we hurried over to the local biofuel plat. This plant is an incredible operation that was developed by local farmers in a time of financial crisis. Many farmers were starting to realize that their livelihood depended entirely on farming, and it was becoming more common for small farms to go under financially. A group of 22 farmers, with the help of the mayor, decided to diversify and so, six years ago they established this bio-gas power plant that supplies power and heat to the village.By the start of our tour, the temperature was steadily dropping below 55 degrees Fahrenheit and unfortunately our tour guide did not speak English but Dr Hoenig was able to translate. Basically, farmers bring their waste and silage to the plant where it is processed and allowed to ferment in enormous vats that harness the off-put of their metabolism and translate it into usable energy for you and me. The fluidy, bubbly mixture of manure and silage is kept at balmy 40oC to provide optimal bacterial growth conditions. It takes roughly 1 ton of corn silage to make 2.000 kilowatt hours of energy… I’m not quite sure what that means in layman’s terms, but the plant has added another gigantic vat in the past year, so it must be working well for them. The farmers’ income has increased since the plant was constructed. Originally it cost €2 million to construct and is now worth over €5 million. Ca-ching!
Nearing the end of our day, we stopped by a small windmill farm and once we’d learned how to harness the power of the wind, we puttered back to the home of Dr Surborg to enjoy the most incredible and legendary meal of our trip. Bread, summer corn salad, juice, and wine. The main event was an incredible dish of meat and potatoes baked in cream. It left our stomachs full, our waistbands tight, and our faces grinning with total satisfaction. As if that wasn’t enough we were served a grand finale of ice cream in vanilla rum sauce, coffee, and pastries. I think we all contemplated smuggling Ingrid back to the states so she could cook for us ALL the time, it was THAT good.
We ended out day with a brief lecture by Dr Helmut Surborg on the life of a bovine vet in Germany. There are almost14 million cattle in Germany in farms in all ranges of sizes. The main medical problems dairy vets face are lameness and mastitis. A vet must also remain vigilant and prepare for the not uncommon cases of emergency C-sections, prolapsed uteruses, fetotomies, metritis, metabolic disorders, displaced abomasums, and range of reproductive complications.He was thoughtful enough to arrange a slide show of some of the highlights of our trip thus far.
We ended our evening by going for a stroll around town. We saw a nearby house where a stork had constructed a massive nest atop a chimney. We made our way over to an area with a few shops and a restaurant. The restaurant was actually an old farm house/barn that was renovated and converted into a modern restaurant. For the next hour or so we simply wandered around enjoying the beautiful view of the countryside that you simply do not see where I am from. It was a lovely ending to the day and we were sad to bid farewell to the Surborg family when we piled back into our vans to trek back to our hotel. It started to dawn on some of us that we only had one more day to enjoy Germany. With still full bellies, most of us quickly fell asleep and rested up for our final day.