America is known as the land of opportunity. That has certainly been true for the Van der Laan family, dairy operators who emigrated from the Netherlands to Texas and then moved to Oklahoma where they’ve built a dairy operation with thousands of cows. That’s quite a jump from the 50 - 100 cows their families milked back in Holland.
This growth didn’t happen overnight, nor did Anita and Pieter’s life together. Both moved to Texas to work in the dairy industry and started buying their own cows as soon as they had enough cash. Once she had her first 10 cows, Anita needed somewhere to keep them, and Pieter had space where he was keeping his own burgeoning herd. After joining their lives and their herds, they continued expanding slowly. Twenty-three years later, they now have 8,000 head of cattle at their two facilities with 4,500 head being milked three times a day. The biggest jump in their expansion came after relocating to Oklahoma in 2002 when they moved 800 cows from their facility in Texas.
Partner in the dairy with Anita and Pieter is his brother, John. His wife is Dorane. Each couple has three children with some of them being in college and aspiring to return to the family dairy operations. The Van der Laan dairy also raises 4,000 acres of feed crops, including corn silage, alfalfa, wheat silage and sorghum silage. “We want to be as self-sufficient as we can,” Anita says. “Four thousand acres doesn’t do the job, though, and the drought is hitting us really hard.”
The cows are more than just milk producers for Anita, who says, “I love my cows, and if you love them, they’ll produce.” That love spreads to how the cows are managed. The Van der Laans keep their herds in free-stall barns where the cows are free to walk around and to eat when they want with fresh feed delivered seven times a day. When they walk around, it’s on rubber mats. When they lie down, they have clean sand boxes waiting. The walkways in the barns are rinsed several times daily and the water is filtered and recycled for reuse. “We want to keep those cows comfortable,” says Anita.