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Thinking outside the box: Nieuwenhof family doubled production in a decade

Frédéric Marcoux for Progressive Dairy Published on 14 April 2022
Justin and Benjamin Nieuwenhof

Extending the intervals between lactations has been instrumental for Montérégie region dairy producers Justin and Benjamin Nieuwenhof to excel in the dairy industry.

An average production of 16,200 kilograms of milk, with 3.9% fat and 3.2% protein, would be unthinkable for many dairy producers, but this is the reality for this father and son team. Located in Dundee, Quebec, the Nieuwenhofs co-own Lareleve Holsteins (Ferme Nieuwenhof et associé inc.), a Holstein herd that relies on 110 lactating cows to produce a 218-kilogram quota.

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The farm made a major shift in the 1990s when the Nieuwenhofs decided to extend lactation length to increase the productivity and profitability of their business.

“More than 20 years ago, my father realized that the daughters of the bull Madawaska Aerostar were really persistent in lactation,” Benjamin explains. “We worked a lot with these genetics. Now we have a very persistent herd. This allows us to easily stretch the intervals between calvings.

“Our cows aren’t necessarily going to peak in production early in their lactation, but they have good endurance,” he adds. “Our lactation curve is more linear. We adapt our way of doing things according to the animal’s potential. Some cows will be bred first at 85 days and others at 300 days of lactation. Our calving interval averages around 430 days.”

100,000 kilograms in three lactations

Using this method, 6-year-old cow Lareleve Supersire 597 produced over 100,000 kilograms of milk in three lactations. Her best lactation was nearly 36,000 kilograms.

Lareleve Supersire 597

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Benjamin says he strongly believes their way of doing things reduces risk, and these techniques make it possible to ensure good profitability and longevity for the animals in the herd.

“Looking at the data around the world, we can see that 70 percent of cows leaving the herd have experienced problems related to the transition after calving,” says the 38-year-old farmer. “So the more often a cow calves, the more likely it is to lose a cow. Our goal is to reduce the number of calvings – to reduce the chances of losing a cow – while keeping our cows productive.”

Getting better over time

An aerial view of the farm where the family milk 110 cows

When it comes to genetics, Benjamin and his father have found that bulls with extremely high fertility rates tend to have progeny with less persistence during their lactation. They therefore avoid this aspect and instead favour feet and legs to ensure the longevity of their animals.

In 2011, the dairy built a milking parlour and freestall facility. Benjamin says he wouldn’t go back to how it was before.

“Each year, we want better results than the previous year,” says Benjamin, who studied agricultural management at Macdonald College before taking over the farm. “We are always in the process of reassessing ourselves to correct our weaknesses. In a freestall, the comfort is superior. This was a weakness in the past, but it is no longer the case since cows can exercise and lie down on sand bedding.”

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Proof they were on the right track came in 2009, when prefix Lareleve received a Master Breeder shield, a high honour in Canada.

The future is bright

A few years ago, Benjamin and Justin did not hesitate to purchase a house near their farm to accommodate two foreign workers. Along with two Canadian employees who have been with the company for over five years, this team provides the Nieuwenhofs the stability to increase efficiency and look to the future with optimism.

“No matter how big the business, if you’re not able to be efficient, it’s going to be difficult to survive,” Benjamin states.

It’s too soon to say if Benjamin’s two children, Owen and Annabelle, ages 10 and 6 respectively, will become the fourth generation of Nieuwenhofs’ farming operation. However, he says there’s one thing for sure: There’s a good chance they will inherit their father and grandfather’s audacity.

“We are not afraid to think outside the box, to try new things, to make mistakes sometimes and to learn from our experiences. This is how we’ve always worked, every year, with my father to improve ourselves,” concludes Benjamin. end mark

PHOTO 1: Justin and Benjamin Nieuwenhof, co-owners of Lareleve Holsteins.

PHOTO 2: The production superstar, 6-year-old Lareleve Supersire 597, has produced more than 100,000 kilograms of milk in three lactations.

PHOTO 3: An aerial view of the farm where the family milks 110 cows to produce 218 kilograms of fat. Photos courtesy of Lareleve Holsteins.

Frédéric Marcoux
  • Frédéric Marcoux

  • Freelance writer
  • Quebec City, Quebec

Neighbours and teammates

In 2011, Lareleve Holsteins had a quota of 80 kilograms and, 11 years later, they are filling 218 kilograms. Without help, it would not have been possible for the farm to more than double production.

Benjamin Nieuwenhof is adamant the help of his four employees and his neighbour has been critical for the farm to reach its goals. “What helped us a lot [in terms of farm growth] is that about 10 years ago, we created a company with our neighbour, Estermann Farm,” Benjamin explains. “[Together we use the company] to purchase farming equipment. We share all the equipment and our workforce.”

In Dundee, a small municipality of less than 400 people who live near the U.S. and Ontario border, the labour shortage is being felt. It is difficult to find competent and reliable employees to work in agriculture. “When it’s hay time, our neighbour and his employees come to help us and vice versa,” Benjamin says. “This allows us to rely on three or four more drivers for the tractors for various jobs. At first, we only planned to help each other with hay, but now we work together all year long.”

Each year, the two farms share more than 600 hours of work.

“We have the same vision of efficiency and the same work ethic,” he explains. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a bond like that with their neighbour. This allows us to reduce our costs and use the machinery to its full potential. It also allows us to acquire certain technologies. These are things we couldn’t afford if we didn’t work as a team. Moreover, if you lack employees to operate the machinery, it’s almost impossible to progress.”

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