Bertjan Westerlaan, Vetvice, The Netherlands “Farmers need to work in a very structured way!“ (Part 1)

Veterinarian Bertjan Westerlaan is one of four partners in Dutch company Vetvice. Vetvice provides practical information on cow housing and husbandry to dairy farmers worldwide – and to their advisers and suppliers. Vetvice aims to maximize the health and welfare of both cow and man whilst guaranteeing the cost-effective production of top-quality milk and dairy products. M²-magazine spoke to Bertjan about his work.

So, Bertjan – what makes Vetvice ‘tick’?

“I guess it’s the attention we pay to our customers, our services and our people.”

Our customers

“Our first priority is our customers – without them we wouldn’t have a business! Our customers in The Netherlands and Belgium are individual farmers to whom we offer consultancy, advice on barn design, training courses and lectures. And we deal with agri-businesses such as feed companies, suppliers of dairy equipment such as milking robots, veterinarians, the pharmaceutical industry, and breeding companies.

Beyond our home base we have worked in more than 60 countries, the most important being Germany, United Kingdom, Estonia, Norway and Sweden.”
“The services we offer include:

  • Training days and practical workshops on a farm, including the Cowsignals series of subjects; young stock; claw (foot) health; robotic milking; dry cow management, etc.
  • Advising farmers on cow health and animal welfare issues.
  • Advising farmers on farm planning and barn design, including strategic options, layouts, technical drawings, gating and cow traffic plans.
  • Organising seminars, workshops and clinics for veterinarians, farmers, nutritionists and other professionals in the dairy business.
  • Last year we started the Vetvice Barn Design Academy, a four-day course in which we train participants in the design and layout of a dairy farm.”

“To manage our wide variety of work and range of clients and to embrace entrepreneurship in the company, Vetvice is organized as a network organisation around small autonomous business units working together in research, knowledge management and transfer, marketing and product development.”

“We focus on our areas of expertise including independent knowledge and practical solutions in cow housing and cow management. In most cases we are hired as experts or we work as partners in larger projects. Co-operation with other professionals is an important aspect of our business.”

“At present, our staff complement includes:

  • 7 bovine veterinarians for planning, training and advice
  • 2 office staff at Cowsignals Training company
  • 1 zootechnician
  • 2 technical engineers on barn design.”

Your work on udder health and milk quality at Vetvice – some more details?
“In my work for Vetvice, udder health starts with barn design and the choice of milking system – parlour or robot.”

“For each system, I find the most important aspects of designing a barn for good udder health and management are:

  1. Lay out of the milking process and the cow flow to the holding pen, in and out of the parlour and to and from the eating and resting area
  2. Lay out of handling facilities and treatment of cows with mastitis etc.
  3. Lay out and housing of special needs cows: dry cows, sick cows, lame cows, and fresh cows.
  4. Ventilation, dry cow housing, flooring, access to feed, lay out of treatment facilities.
  5. Cow comfort and the cubicle arrangements.”

“Good cubicles are very important for udder health and they need daily maintenance to keep them clean. Although other materials are available, we believe that sand is the ideal bedding material.”

“At Vetvice we have invested heavily in our knowledge of designing and managing sand barns. Clients with sand bedded freestalls have excellent results regarding claw and udder health and have lower somatic cell counts (SCC), fewer cases of clinical mastitis and low replacement rates.”

Text: Tom Morrow – Photo: Vetvice