Article written by Rosa de Nooijer
In the outskirts of Leuven, Belgium, stands an Abbey that was built in 1129. Today, in 2023, the land surrounding the ‘Abdij van Park’ is used by a cooperative of farmers. The meadows are grazed by their cattle, and the fertile soil is used to grow potatoes, cereals, vegetables, and fruit. Passing by on a summer day, you might spot the cows ruminating in the shade provided by the Shade Haven that farmer Ine Craenhals got for them. We asked Ine some questions about the role of the Shade Haven on the farm.
Q: Can you tell us about yourself and your farm?
Ine: “We are BoerEnCompagnie, a mixed, organic farm near Leuven. The farming cooperative is made up of different partners, such as the farmers, active participants, and a board. We run the farm as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where those with an annual subscription can come and harvest the vegetables and fruit that we grow. Additionally, there are different subscriptions to packages that include dairy, meat, cereals (and flour), potatoes and bread.
I joined BoerEnCompagnie as a partner in 2018. That is also when we started milking the herd as well as processing the milk. We have a herd of 15 dairy cows. The calves spend a minimum of three months with their mothers. We process all the milk into various products that are combined into packages that customers can subscribe to. We also sell all the meat ourselves.”
Q: Why did you start looking for a shade structure for your animals?
Ine: I saw that our cows were having a hard time on hot days. Our farm is located on the grounds of the old Abbey. The surrounding landscape is protected, so planting trees is not possible everywhere. We decided to plant as many as we were allowed to because they play an important role when it comes to supplying minerals. Even though we would have loved to plant more trees, we also knew that they would take a long time to grow large enough to protect the herd. That is when we started looking for a mobile shade structure. Now, I am convinced that a mobile shade spot has many advantages over a tree because you can influence where in the meadow the animals spend their time. Otherwise, in warm weather they would always under ‘that one tree’, which means that too much fertilizer falls in one place. This results in the grass no longer growing and so on. We also work with rotational grazing and without a Shade Haven we always had to give them access to the same part of the pasture on hot days. But… those warm days turned into warm periods, so we ran into problems with food. We also worked with a temporary fence in a shady spot, but we were not allowed to turn it into a permanent pasture. And that temporary fence requires a lot of work. Not just that, but with this shady spot the same rule applies: the manure always falls in the same place.
Q: What are the benefits of the Shade Haven?
Ine: “The fact that you can spread the manure and always allow the shade to go with the herd. The Shade Haven is incredibly user-friendly! It is so easy to fold and unfold. I even enjoy it. The structure is very robust: nothing has broken yet, even when the wind blows a little harder. Of course, it is important to keep an eye on the wind, but it can handle quite windy days. The good thing is that, when I do close it, the cows no longer need it because the wind cools down enough.”
Q: Are there also negatives? If so, have you found solutions for that?
Ine: “You need a tractor or something similar to move the Shade Haven. We don’t always have one right next to the meadow. I have not found a permanent solution for it yet. Though I have been thinking that maybe I would want to train a cow to pull it. I think that for us it is a matter of better organizing the grazing system so we can keep up with the work we are already doing anyways. But I try to keep in mind that we have only been milking for 6 years, so we are still learning a lot.”
Q: Have you seen a difference in the behavior of the herd since you have the Shade Haven?
Ine: “They love the Shade Haven. They walk there -even when they have fresh grass- to rub themselves on the brushes and of course to cool down (not just in the shade, but also in the breeze due to the lower temperature). They really get through the hot days better than before.”
Q: Why would you recommend others to also purchase a Shade Haven?
Ine: “It’s so easy to use, there is no maintenance, and it is well made. You will have no more worries. The animals feel much better and they continue to give good milk on hot days.”
Q: How do other farmers and people who visit the farm react to the shade haven?
Ine: “The reactions are always very positive, and people are curious about it. The price of the Shade Haven scares some people away. Even though I understand that, you have to look at it as an investment, just like a like a tractor or a good milking machine. We were fortunate that we could count on support from the Abbey. Otherwise we would never have been able to buy this because we were only just beginning. Now that we have one, I wouldn’t want to miss it ever again. Talking about money, it is important to mention that planting and replanting trees to protect livestock also costs a lot of money, which is often forgotten. Finally, I think farmers can also look at subsidies to make such investments (in Flanders, for example, the VLIF).”
Q: What is your future dream for keeping animals on farms/for the animals on your farm?
Ine: “I would like to focus more on the grazing on our farm and get better at it. There’s nothing more fun than being among the cows in the meadow and setting up the fences for the next few days. This way I hope to be able to get more milk from grazing. As long as the cows are grazing happily, I am happy as well.
We want to thank Ine for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions.
Man@Machine is a European importer of the Shade Haven. European farmers interested in adding mobile shade should contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +31644428391