Everyone’s talking about sustainability, environmental protection, and CO2 neutrality. This is also happening in the Mörshausen district of Homberg.
Farmers have a sustainability mindset. It’s in their genes, because, to all intents and purposes, they’re concerned with sustaining their farms over generations. This is certainly true for the Schäfer family from Külos, a small hamlet near Fulda. It’s what you imagine an agricultural idyll to be like. But behind this idyll is a modern, forward-looking family business where there is always plenty to do. All three children either help on the farm or with the dairy business. So, over 800 years of farming tradition in Külos is certainly set to continue.
There is space for the family's around 140 dairy cows in the loose-housing barn and the automatic milking system frees up time for family members. Time that the Schäfer family uses to cultivate approx. 100 hectares of arable land and grassland, to maintain their own forest and tend to their animals. A look around the farm reveals past investment decisions. Ten years ago the barn was expanded, the milking system purchased and solar panels installed on the roofs. “At that point it was already foreseeable that the farm would continue on after us”, Winfried and Michaela recall. “The milking parlour was due for an update. With the future of the farm in mind, we then decided on the current scale of the business and the milking system”. A couple of years later this investment was to pay off again.
When Hochwald introduced the MilchPlus programme and the first year required collecting a wealth of data, the Schäfers were at a clear advantage. Many of the figures needed were still relatively up to date and didn't need to be collected from scratch or searched for in folders for hours at a time. “That first collection of data was still an huge effort though”, says Winfried Schäfer. “However much I was in favour of the measure and although I knew that documenting our sustainability efforts was necessary, I have to admit to sighing and cursing from time to time".
Sustainability and animal welfare are recognised values on the Schäfer farm. However, in their experience, MilchPlus has also highlighted potential clashes between the two goals. For instance, the Schäfers are looking into installing fans in the barn to create a more comfortable climate during the summer months. “But this will lead to a massive increase in our electricity consumption, which in turn will mean a point being deducted in this area”. And staying on the subject of electricity consumption for a moment; the combination of solar panels and automatic milking system ensures an optimal yield here. Around 60% of the solar power generated is used directly on the farm.
The quality of milk in Germany is outstanding. The farms here produce an excellent product under controlled conditions and to high standards. “It’s a shame that consumers don't tend to appreciate it for what it is”, says Christoph Schäfer. “Animal welfare, sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions all cost money. Money and time that we invest but haven’t been able to charge for in recent years. All stakeholders are called upon here to fight for an improvement to the situation”. Another common school of thought is also evident on the Schäfer farm, namely that animal welfare is in the interest of the farmer. A healthy cow simply produces more milk.
The Schäfer family lives and breathes dairy farming. Every single family member. They put their all into their animals, milk production and the farm. It’s a passion that you can feel and that's contagious when you spend time with the five of them. What is also noticeable is the understanding and awareness of how important MilchPlus is for the marketing of milk. And you can feel the love a little too at second glance.