While in the Netherldands, we had the pleasure of visiting with Theo Koekoek of Culeinei Farms, thanks to some family connections of Beatrice Visser.
Culinei is located just outside of the small town of Amkerk, Netherlands. Theo raises 9,000 brown free range hens and 20,000 white free run hens.
Here are some of the realities of producing eggs in the Netherlands:
- All housing systems are cage free.
- Beak treatment is not allowed.
- All barns must have natural light.
- No electrical wire can be used to prevent birds from piling.
- When expanding his farm he needs to consider strict environmental controls that look at the ammonia outputs not just of his farm, but of other farms in his area.
- Feed must be vegetarian – he is not allowed to feed any animal residues.
How is he successful raising hens in a loose housing environment with so many restrictions?
- Provides hens with hanging hay bales (short cut) to play with. He also provides brick stones for the birds to peck at – this helps them to naturally wear their beaks down.
- Upon placing a new flock of layers, the first evening he leaves birds to adjust, but on following nights he goes and checks and puts birds up into the system. He ensures that every single bird is up in the system – and continues to do this each night until all birds go up on their own. He has found this has been critical for preventing floor eggs.
One very unique thing about Culinei farm is the egg vending machine he has placed at the end of his driveway, where locals can stop by and purchase eggs. While they are there, consumers can stop and have a rest at the picnic table provided, beside the pasture for his free range flock where guests are welcome to sit and watch his birds.
Theo shared with us his thoughts on being a farmer today. He explained that to be successful, farmers have to make a choice, become larger and gain economies of scale, or add value. He’s decided to add value – providing local produce to his local market. He is also working to develop an alcoholic beverage made with eggs that he can also sell from his farm. Theo is focused on meeting market demands for things like non-gmo eggs and organic eggs and explained that even though he may not personally have chosen these products himself, that he needs to provide what the consumers of today want. Theo’s advice for farmers, look at what area you are in and what is needed, and look at what is in your heart to decide what is the best for the future of your farm.
Theo likes to tell the story of his farm, and be proud of the work he does. He is not alone, farmers in the Netherlands are doing a lot of innovative things to bridge the gap between the public and the farm like providing campsites on the farm, opening a dayhome on the farm, welcoming seniors to the farm to watch the animals. All of these programs help the farmer by bringing in alternative sources of income, while building connections with the public.
Culinei operates in a country with some of the strictest animal welfare requirements in the world, but Theo has found a way to remain successful, and to secure the future of his farm.