Member of Distinction: Southwest Area — Fluit Dairy

Written by Christine Bush
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A little more than 17 years ago, a young man from Holland came to the United States with a bag of clothes and enough money to buy 30 cows. Today, Johan de Boer, and his wife, Klazina, operate a dairy milking more than 1,340 cows in Dublin, Texas.

Johan grew up dairying with his family in Holland, and once he finished school, he worked for his father 70–80 hours a week. In Holland, land is expensive, making it hard to expand or buy property to start a new dairy. Since Johan had a sibling, he wasn’t sure the dairy could support all of them as they got older and the family grew. When Johan’s neighbor moved to the United States to start a dairy in Texas, Johan decided to visit him to see how the operation worked, exploring the possibility of dairying in America.

“I worked for my neighbor for a year,” Johan says. “I really liked it and thought I could probably do it myself, too. My dad was still pretty young, and so there was pretty much no chance of me taking over the dairy in Holland.”

Johan went back to Holland and spent four months getting together the necessary documents he needed to move to America. Johan and Klazina were dating at the time, and she had recently graduated as a veterinary assistant. Johan asked her to come with him to start a dairy.

“It was not a hard decision to come to Texas,” she says. “I knew that we could always move back if we wanted to.”

The couple began by leasing a dairy in DeLeon, Texas. Although the de Boers were used to the hard work of a dairy, they say starting one on their own was difficult.

“It was a lot of hard labor,” Johan says. “We fed by hand. We had a truck, but no tractors or anything. We carried buckets to feed the cows in the barn.“

Early on, the de Boers formed a good relationship with a banker. Johan started with 30 cows in October 1996 and by January 1997, he had 110 cows.

“I asked if I could borrow the money to buy 30 cows,” Johan says. “The banker gave me enough to buy another 30, so I had 60. Then out of cash flow, I bought 20 more cows. I would go back to the bank and ask for a loan for 20 more cows. That’s how we kept growing.”

The de Boers worked practically around the clock. They fed three times a day and milked three times a day. Johan says that they worked so hard, sometimes fatigue got the best of them.

“We were so tired one time, we fell asleep in the afternoon,” he says. “We woke up around midnight, and I told Klazina we could go back to sleep because we already milked a second time today. She thought about it and realized that we had slept through it. We couldn’t believe it. We just got so tired.”

In 1999, the de Boers wanted to stop leasing and find their own place. A friend told them about land in Dublin, Texas, with a lot of trees, an old dairy barn, two 150-cow freestall barns and 223 acres. They looked at the property and fell in love with it. The de Boers bought the property and named it Fluit Dairy, based on Johan’s nickname.

“In Holland, everyone has a nickname,” Klazina says. “He would walk around a lot whistling, so people called him fluit, which means to whistle.”

The de Boers spent years remodeling and building their operation in Dublin. They started with a double-eight herringbone parlor, and in 2007, they tore down the milking barn and built an expanded barn housing a double-20 parallel. Over the years, they bought more land; now they own 500 acres and lease another 1,000 acres growing wheat, corn, Bermuda grass and sorghum. 

Like many others, Johan had to adjust his operation during the downturn in 2009. He says that margin differences showed him that he needed to dedicate more attention to growing additional feed for his herd.

Johan made it a practice to form a good relationship with the people who work with him on the farm. He has 16 employees, with eight of them living on the property. Some of the men have been with the de Boers for 12 years. Johan speaks English and his native Dutch language and says he learned Spanish to communicate better with his employees. 

“I’m not perfect in my Spanish,” he says. “I can understand them and we can talk about chores, the dairy and what needs to be done. “

Johan has another longstanding work relationship with his veterinarian, which began before he opened Fluit Dairy.

“Johan applied what he learned in school in Holland,” says Mike McNally of McNally Veterinary Service. “He also worked for others and saw how they did it. It’s a two-way street for us. He teaches me some stuff and I teach him.”

McNally says that Johan keeps his herd manageable and does a great job of ensuring the stalls are clean and providing fresh sand as often as possible.

“He loves calves, and he’s constantly working,” McNally says. “That’s one reason this thing runs so smooth is because he’s here most of the time. He’s got a good crew so he can take a few days off. He’s here and his employees know where he is all the time. That makes a big difference.”

Meeting the needs of the cows comes naturally for Johan. He picked up a lot of these skills on his father’s dairy.

“I’ve worked with cows since I was a little boy,” he says. “I treat all the cows myself with some of my guys and then I tell them what to do. I like to manage the cows and breed them and take care of the sick cows. Every day, I spend the first three hours of the day tending to the sick cows, depending on how many we have. ”

Another key relationship Johan has on the dairy is with his nutritionist. The two concentrate on using as much of Johan’s forages as possible to keep the cows healthy.

“His focus is back here on the dairy every day,” says Dean McMahon, a nutritionist with Purina. “He’s very much a hands-on operator. He’s very open to change and very open to progression if it benefits the farm and the cows. “

Klazina and Johan use myDFA to monitor test results and their milk check. Klazina manages the books and their children, Ilse, 11, Jilt, 9, and Jitse, 4. Neither of them call running a dairy a job.

“If you work for somebody else, it’s probably nine to five,” Klazina says. “We work 24/7, but we love it, so it’s not really a job for us. This is our life.”

“The de Boers’ milk is always high quality,” says Danny Glossup, the farms’ DFA field representative. “Johan and Klazina use the latest technologies in all aspects of their operation, while they also keep their place well kept. I see them as being one of our true leaders, not only within the Cooperative but with the community as well.”

Johan says that he doesn’t do a lot of research, but that he manages his operation by going with the times. 

“I try to be here every day and work with my guys,” he says. “I let them know what’s going on and get the cows straightened out. You need to get the cow part straightened out because that’s where we need to make the money. I don’t know if it’s just luck. I just always do my own thing.”