2015 Sustainable food, organic farming and nature development Frank van Dommelen, senior relationship manager
What challenge was the inspiration for this project?
To combine sustainability and animal welfare, with modern, profitable operational management, in the agricultural sector requires constant innovation. This is also the case for entrepreneur and farmer Sjaak Sprangers, who runs his dairy farm in addition to and partly in a Dutch nature reserve between Tilburg and ’s-Hertogenbosch.
With an ageing dairy shed, new accommodation for Sjaak’s cows was essential. The challenge was ambitious: to build a new cow shed that integrated with the natural environment, promoted the wellbeing of the livestock, limited ammonia emissions, promoted and protected the soil conditions in the nature reserve – and that simultaneously offers a perspective on modern entrepreneurship.
What was your innovation that addresses this problem?
The construction of a cow shed in this natural environment, with so many wishes and demands, requires very broad support and a lot of knowledge. Sjaak Sprangers therefore started a dialogue with environmental groups, the local nature group, the municipality of Kaatsheuvel, the southern agricultural and horticultural organisation, the association of dune, Agricultural University of Wageningen and different agrarian and technical contractors.
For the financial component, he approached a number of grant facilities in Brussels. The ministry of Economic Affairs also made a contribution. Contractors and technical developers also offered financial backing.
Combining the knowledge, innovation, inspiration, determination, commitment and passion of these groups has resulted in the development of a new type of cow shed, the quatrain cowshed or ‘Kwatrijnstal’.
Some distinctive features:
The quatrain cow shed is an innovative dairy shed adapted to its landscape. It offers a high degree of animal welfare, low ammonia emissions and broad public support. It has a unique floor, which disposes urine and solid manure separately. This strongly reduces ammonia emissions and improves biodiversity.
Because of the transparent design and the unique roof construction, the cow shed integrates well with the environment and passers-by can see what’s happening inside. Compared to a closed cow shed, the quatrain appears to be much smaller, not least because the environment is visible throughout the cowshed.
The roof construction, which comprises different levels, gives the cow shed a friendlier appearance, which is in harmony with the scale of the landscape and the region’s traditional architecture.
Cows have 50% more room for movement than a traditional dairy shed in the quatrain cow shed. There are ‘islands’ for lying down on straw beds which offer insulation and absorb moisture. Straw also adds extra value to solid manure. A special machine automatically distributes the straw across the islands.
Milking is done in a mobile milking system that operates on solar energy. The cow shed is designed so that there are no ‘dead corners’ in which the animals can crowd. The areas where the animals can lie down are very spacious and the feeding gate is open. This avoids the animals injuring themselves or each other. Naturally, the cows have unlimited access to the nature reserve outside all year round.
The animals are fed organic products with all roughage from the nature reserve itself. Organic manure is also returned to nature again.
The size of the cow shed means that illness or animal injury seldom occur and medication, such as antibiotics, aren’t required. Partly as a result of this, the Jersey cows produce healthy milk of such high quality that it can be processed into organic ice-cream, cheese and other dairy products by a small-scale dairy processor.
What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?
Sjaak Sprangers already had an organic farming business and used to bank with one of the large banks. Additional finance was required because the project demanded an innovative approach and required public support, and he believed that a bank was also needed that actually fitted with the overall approach.
With Triodos Bank, he was able to raise ‘green’ money to build the cow shed. Moreover, Triodos Bank was well known in this sector and they could offer constructive input during the planning development. Other stakeholders also felt that Triodos Bank’s involvement was positive.
What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?
There was a lot of focus on this project within environmental and nature groups and in the different agricultural organisations, including a working and advisory group that offers support and advises entrepreneurs to set up new agricultural projects in or near nature reserves.
The ‘Kwatrijn’ has become an initiative that could be adopted by more farmers, and the developers’ intention is to market this concept. Various professional excursions are being organised for fellow farmers.
What impact has your business had on the community?
In the run-up to and during the construction of the shed, numerous people from the immediate vicinity were able to follow these developments. This contributed towards broad public support.
The new quatrain cow shed of Sjaak and Suzanne Sprangers was opened with great fanfare by state secretary Sharon Dijksma in 2015, which also gave the project national exposure. The shed and the approach show that there are excellent opportunities tocombine nature and agriculture.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
The owner is a very passionate organic dairy farmer who can tell lots of stories about his animals and their natural environment. The well-being of his animals is high on the agenda for Sjaak Sprangers; to him, it’s inseparable from an agricultural system that allows as many natural elements as possible to return and does not rely on fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and medicines. This fits perfectly with the mission of Triodos Bank.