Every day, the Research and Development (R&D) department works on solutions and innovations that benefit animal welfare, the environment and veal farmers. How does an innovation come about? Who determines how and when an innovation is used? And perhaps most importantly, why is innovation necessary?
Innovation starts by listening to signals from stakeholders and society. Insights and opinions change, knowledge develops and new technologies come to fruition. By combining these factors and looking critically at the processes within the entire chain, continuous improvements are made. In so doing, the VanDrie Group strengthens its chain, makes it more sustainable and continues to take responsibility for the impact it makes.
Working together is crucial to innovation - both internally between different departments and externally with knowledge institutions and partners. Wiebe Mulder, responsible for the R&D department at the VanDrie Group, explains: “Theory and practice in R&D are very closely related. We continuously work with veal farmers and knowledge institutions to assess whether an envisioned innovation is feasible in practice. We are proud that our department has one foot in the stall and the other in the lab, as it were.”
Wiebe explains that the stall climate is an important factor for the welfare of the calves. The feed intake decreases, among other things, in the event of an imbalance in the climate and this impedes the calves’ development. Wiebe: “Discussions with regional managers and veal farmers reveal that farmers generally have a clear picture of the stall climate during the daytime, as they can be found there a substantial part of the day. That’s different at night.”
That is why a pilot has been launched among veal farmers by R&D and regional managers. By installing sensors and measurement points, a data set of the stall climate is formed, both day and night. By making this data available to the veal farmer in a convenient manner, in this case through an app, the information collected can be put to practical use. Enriching it with weather forecasts makes it possible for farmers to respond to weather influences, for example by adjusting the feed or turning on extra ventilation. As a result, the welfare of the calves increases, and growth and health is promoted.
R&D works on solutions to challenges that are relevant now and in the future. These include sustainability requirements, environmental concerns and technical aspects, such as feed conversion. For example, the percentage of roughage in the feed has been increased for some time already within the VanDrie Group. Roughage promotes the animal-specific behaviour, rumination and the development of the rumen. By offering calves varied feed with calf milk, water and roughage, the welfare of the calves is increased.
In collaboration with knowledge institutions, a nutritional supplement has been developed: Vita Start. The first two weeks that calves are in the stalls at the veal farmer are critical. Calves that do not consume the complete feed package often suffer more from illness or a lag in development. In particular, changing the feed from just calf milk to calf milk and roughage is initially difficult with some calves. Wiebe: "Vita Start supports the health and improves the resistance of calves. As a result, the calves eat more easily and feed intake and growth increases.”
This can be seen in the results of the veal farmers that work with Vita Start: illness and antibiotics use have decreased further. Wiebe concludes: “The great thing about these types of innovations is that there are immediate results, animal welfare improves and the work becomes more enjoyable for the veal farmer. By innovating and being a little better every day, the VanDrie Group remains a relevant party in society.”