Like so many Dutch dairymen in the United States, Ben Van Warmerdam emigrated from Holland in 1947 with a dream of starting his own dairy. But, he also dreamed of being part of an industry that was united in its goals to provide wholesome, quality milk at a competitive price.
Only a month before leaving his home country, Ben had united Dutch dairymen there to get a better price for their milk. They were successful, receiving 20–30 percent more in their milk checks.
“That always stuck in my dad’s mind that unity brings strength,” says Peter Van Warmerdam, Ben’s son. “Ever since, he was always a leader in promoting cooperatives and cooperation among dairy farmers to try and better everyone. His motto was always ‘in unity, you bring strength.’”
It was a lesson Ben learned early in his life, as he played an important leadership role in the underground Dutch resistance movement during the German occupation of Holland during World War II.
While Ben passed away two years ago, his passion and dedication to working together for the greater good was something his family inherited. Ben and his wife, Quirina, raised seven children, four of whom are involved in the dairy operation. Sons Peter and Leo are managing partners, along with their brother Benny and sister Mary.
Now owners of Van Warmerdam Dairy in Galt, Calif., the brothers work together to carry on their father’s legacy on the farm he started in 1953.
Milking 1,100 cows, Peter and Leo cite their father’s influence often when discussing their operation.
“Through the years, working with Dad on the dairy, he really instilled effective labor and management techniques, and that you needed quality feed to get a wholesome quality product like milk,” Leo says.
Leo oversees the dairy’s farming operations, while Peter focuses on the milking herd. The brothers both emphasize that the performance of one side of the business has a profound impact on the other.
“I have a real passion for dairy cows, but I love the farming side too,” Peter says. “I love to watch things grow. I love to see good crops because if you have good crops, your cows will be healthy and produce high-quality and high amounts of milk. It’s definitely a team effort on this farm. I take care of the cows, and my brother takes care of the farming and tries to produce as high-quality feed as possible.”
Feed plays an important role in milk quality, Peter says. He works with a nutritionist every other week to examine the herd’s diet and make adjustments. He also pays close attention to how much each cow is eating.
“My motto is ‘every bite counts,’” Peter says. “I want to make sure that a cow has access to every mouthful at the right time to produce as much as possible with the least amount of stress. That is why I’ve always believed in having a high-quality diet.”
Cow comfort is also crucial to milk quality and production, Peter says. The brothers are constantly keeping an eye on industry trends and new products. As the dairy has grown through a series of gradual expansions from 35 cows in 1953 to more than 1,000 today, steps have been taken to ensure technology and techniques are up-to-date or even ahead of the curve.
For about 30 years, the family has utilized an automatic calf feeder that provides 2 pints of milk 12 times a day, plus constant access to water, hay and grain.