There are some farmers in Germany who are switching from conventional to organic milk production, latest figures suggest.
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German farmer tastes the difference with organic hay milk
German organic dairy farmer Rüdiger Pöhl (left) with Bio-Sil's Frank Foster with forage specialists Anika Beuster and Jutta Zielke

For many it’s not a case of securing a better farm gate price. The real driver is a desire to produce milk in what they regard is a more natural and sustainable manner.

There are also some farmers who have taken this principle to a higher level again by feeding their cows high-quality, barn-dried hay as the sole source of winter forage.

One farmer who is doing this is Rüdiger Pöhl, who milks 70 Fleckvieh cows close to the village Gottberg in north eastern Germany and he invited Agriland to see his farm in operation.

Cows on the farm of Rüdiger Pöhl have 24/ 7 access to an exterior, straw-bedded lying area

Pöhl’s farm extends to 270ha. In addition to the grass and hay produced for the cows and young stock, Pöhl produces 30t of organic hemp seed and 40t of sunflower seed on an annual basis. Organic barley is also grown on the farm.

The cows are milked by a single robot: they are currently producing 6,500L per lactation. Approximately 4kg of organic concentrates are fed to the cows in the milking group per day.

The herd is zero-grazed throughout the spring and summer period. The forage is changed to hay for the rest of the year.

German farmer tastes the difference with organic hay milk 2
Barn dried hay made on the German dairy farm of Rüdiger Pöhl

Pöhl made the switch to organic in 2009 but before this he had milked 116 cows.

Currently he sells his milk in two ways with the bulk of the farm’s output going to a local processer who is currently paying 57c/L.

This includes a bonus that reflects a farmer’s commitment to both organic production standards and the use of home-grown hay as a winter feed.

The family also operates a milk vending machine at the farm, which is available to members of the public on a 24/7 basis.

Customers pay €1.20/L for the unpasteurised milk but they must bring their own bottle or container.

According to Pöhl sales volumes from the vending machine are currently averaging 50L/day.

He told Agriland that on average two cuts of high quality hay are made each year.

This year’s first crop was made on June 28th at a very leafy stage of growth and the forage has a crude protein value of 11%.

The grass is round-baled in the field and then taken for drying.

The drying facility on the Pöhl’s farm can handle up to 40 bales at a time.

Traditionally kerosene was the traditional fuel used for the grass drying operation but in recent years the farm has switched to incorporating greater use of recycled, warm air within the drying plant in tandem with the increasing use of electricity.

Bales can be taken up to 80% dry matter levels within 8 hours and Pöhl estimates it costs in the region of €3 to dry each bale.

Pöhl believes organic hay milk has a very sweet and appealing taste because of its high fat content, which is a direct consequence of the high fibre levels within the forage.

The quality rating of domestic dairy products has remained above 99 percent for six consecutive years, experts said at a webinar.

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