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How heritage, nature and technology make Dutch dairy farming unique

Why NOVAS Signature Milk cows create quality milk powder

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How can parents tell the meaningful difference between milk powder brands? And why is that difference impacted by the milk powder’s journey from inception – essentially, grass in a field – to delivery in a grocery store aisle? Well, in today’s world, it is both increasingly important and challenging to have clear insight into the global supply chain for any product. Fortunately for consumers of Friso Gold milk powder, Friso is devoted to that very transparency in their supply chain; they are deeply invested in the quality of their dairy products and the wellbeing of their farmers and dairy cows. This ethos is at the heart of their proprietary NOVAS Signature Milk. It’s no secret that the best cows produce the best milk. So what exactly makes them the best?

The Roots of Friso’s Quality Control

The roots of Friso’s quality control extend deep into the green grass of the Netherlands, which has been a center for dairy production since the 16th century, long before the current concept of “craft quality goods” even existed.

Paul Schouten is a third generation dairy farmer who manages 250 heads of Holstein Friesian cattle at his family’s farm in the province of Gelderland, the Netherlands. More specifically, the cows are specially selected to produce NOVAS Signature Milk, the milk source for Friso Gold milk powder.

As Schouten says, “My grandfather started here in 1930, so we have been situated here for more than 80 years. I’m the third generation, and maybe we’ll have a fourth generation. My youngest son is 14 years old – maybe he’ll want to take over.”

The Legacy of a Family Farm

The legacy of a family farm isn’t just the land; it’s also measured in institutional knowledge. For years, Schouten’s grandfather managed 25 cows with a four-person team. Today, Schouten with the help of automated processes, manages the 250-cow farm with his brother and one hired hand. But he also believes there is a limit to what technology can accomplish, and that’s where the generational knowledge becomes invaluable. For example: when it comes to the health and welfare of his cattle, Schouten uses computers to record and measure their feed intake – but that alone is not enough.

“When you change your cow’s diet, you must look to her skin. You must look to the [appearance of the] manure. There’s a saying, ‘You must have it in your fingers,’” says Schouten. In other words, farmers must possess instinct, intuition, and experience in addition to the latest technology. “When you think it can be done by machine and you are only looking at the computer, that’s not possible. Yeah, that’s possible for 70 percent of your cattle, but not 100 percent.”

What does hold true for 100 percent of Schouten’s cattle is routine. Schouten starts his day at six in the morning to check the milking machines and feed the calves, followed by feeding the cows. During this time (and throughout the day), he is also checking individual cows to observe their health and well-being.

“That’s the same as with a human being. When you are looking at something, at someone, and you see the eyes are not good or the hair is not good or people are not happy, that’s the same with a cow. You must learn it. I learned it from my father,” says Schouten.

After three hours of feeding and checking the stock, the cattle go outside to graze in the fresh air for six hours. “The most important thing is the weather in the Netherlands,” says Schouten. “It’s a very good climate. It’s not too hot. And sometimes it’s a little bit too wet, but when it’s too wet you can hold your cows inside the barn. But we don’t have problems with it. Every day the cows can go out for grazing.”

The Dutch Farming Expertise

For an outside observer, it may seem incongruent to think of cattle grazing, which requires open space, and the Netherlands, which is a relatively small country with a dense population. In fact, the Netherlands has a population density of 508 people per square kilometer. (For context, globally, the average population density is just 25 people per square kilometer.) But again: experience, the environment, plus a Dutch genius for irrigation in the dry months, all combine to make a historically fertile ground, as it were, for raising dairy cows.

When you combine excellent feed, advanced agriculture tech, and Dutch farming expertise that dates back centuries, the result is high quality milk. There’s a science to this: caseins are the prominent protein in cow milk. Friso cows produce milk with a lower than average level of casein mineralisation compared to Jersey cattle – which means Friso milk has small molecules with soft structure that are easier on children’s tummies.

Schouten is just one of many farmers within the Friso Gold milk powder production chain. While these operations are differentiated, they all adhere to the rigorous standards of the Duurzame Zuivelketen (Sustainable Dairy Chain), which focuses on climate neutral development, protecting local biodiversity, preserving open grazing as a best practice, and producing quality dairy goods. As the Duurzame Zuivelketen organisation states, “In the dairy chain, we want our work to be safe and satisfying; we want to earn a good income, produce high-quality food, respect animals and the environment, and be appreciated by Dutch society.”

Separate from but similar to the Sustainable Dairy Chain are the Foqus Planet guidelines set down by FrieslandCampina, which produces NOVAS Signature Milk. The Foqus Planet guidelines prescribe that cattle must engage in open but biodiversity-friendly grazing; eat high quality feed; be raised on clean farms. This isn’t just rhetoric – auditors regularly check on operations like Schouten’s farm to ensure the quality control of the farm, the biodiversity-friendly grazing and the cattle’s feed. “Most of the time, the auditors come one time per year or one time every two years,” says Schouten. “But I say if they want to come every month, they can come. It’s not a problem.”

Consumers themselves have a bit of oversight in the process via an industry-first TrackEasy QR code at the bottom of every Friso Gold tin. When a customer scans the code, they can learn about the farm that produced their milk powder and the exact dates of the milking process, giving real weight to the term “from grass to glass.”

Schouten says no matter what the level of oversight, he is comfortable with the quality of his product. Even campers are welcome to stay overnight at the farm, as part of many vacations. “We have, every day, people around us, looking at us. And that’s the most important thing. Do it every day, the right way.”