Regarded as one of Germany’s top Holstein breeders, Conny Derbervon’s passion and enthusiasm is equally matched by each of his three daughters.
Farming in partnership with his wife, Annette, and daughters Anna, Cathrin and Dorothee, they all play an integral role in the business at Derboven. Together as a team they make a formidable force accomplishing their goals and breeding objectives which continues to have a strong focus on type.
The farm was purchased by Annette’s parents, Gerhard and Lieselotte Derboven, in 1961 when they moved two hours south from Hamburg to Lower Saxony with 20 cows. In 1982 Annette and Conny inherited the farm and Conny moved from his home farm with 35 cows.
The girls’ interest for cows was fuelled at a young age through Young Breeders and showmanship competitions. They were each given their own cow in the herd, and they believe this motivated them to be more involved in the farm. Having three daughters all keen to be involved in the farm business is unique in itself and at Derboven it has only strengthened the business.
Quota restrictions during the 80s meant Conny and Annette shifting their focus from milking more cows to breeding better cows in order to derive income from livestock sales. Conny has always had a passion for breeding good cows and in his youth he missed school to go to sales on his own, gaining an appreciation for the North American type of cow. In a quest to breed his preferred type of cow and move away for the German and Dutch type of that era, he travelled to Canada and North America to purchase genetics.
By 1985 the first sale of animals was successfully held with the top prices selling to England and Ireland. This was followed in 1986 by the first livestock purchases imported from England; Crossfield Romeo Lancia EX-94, Hayleys Starbuck Gloriette EX-92 and Hayleys Starbuck Edie VG-88.
These purchases proved influential having bred the best production cows in the herd today. Lancia is the great-granddam of Faber, the most heavily used Red Holstein bull in Germany in 2002 and 2003, 600,000 doses were sold to many countries making him one of the most frequently used Red Holstein sires worldwide. There is also a Ladd P descendant that was second at Oldenburg. Lancia herself is still Conny’s favourite cow at Derboven having provided early success in the show ring her many wins included Miss Nienburg 1996.
With 50 milking descendants, Starbuck Gloriette has left her legacy at Derboven. A daughter of Donovan Sheik Gloriette EX-94 imported from Western Canada, this family also transmits type in their progeny and still has 17 descendants at Donovan today. Two sons from this family sold to AI stations. Blackstar son Bonatus was one of Germany’s top sires with 820,000 units of semen being sold to 40 countries, he dependably bred daughters with good type, lots of rib and great legs. While Monreal bred very tall daughters with good strength.
The 80s were an important time in Conny’s life as a Holstein breeder, with two fellow Germans, they created the ‘Top Cow’ Syndicate, importing 500 embryos from families with at least three generations of EX, combined with high performance. Among others, the families included: Glenridge Citation Roxy EX-97, Miss Ron Nan Enhancer Molly-Red EX-90, Mansion-Valley SWD Denise EX-94, Gillette Blackstar Christiane VG-88 and Hanoverhill Sallie EX-93.
Today the herd has two lines of the Roxy family that have provided them with foundation families. Two Blackstar sisters from Hanoverhill Tony Rae EX-96 and an Aerostar from Scientific Lady Rae VG-89, with the Blackstar line being most preferred by the girls.
During the 90s Conny sold many bulls in to AI, including Faber and Bonatus, and at that time the market suited the type of cow bred at Derboven. Now that the market has moved on to Genomics less bulls are kept each year, because Conny and his daughters are continuing to breed strong families with high type but not chasing the latest Genomics. Currently 10 bulls are reared each year to sell privately to breeders.
The importance of strong cow families and focus on type remains key to the team at Derboven, both in their own cows but also when selecting sires. Passing on this philosophy to his girls, today both Anna and Dorothee are involved in the cow management and breeding decisions.
“We prefer to use proven sires, however, to have the choice of bloodlines we do use Genomics, treating them as young sires and only select bulls backed by a strong family. Genomics moves too fast, we enjoy breeding cows but none of us are ready to chase Genomic fashion,” said Dorothee.
Anna continued: “Our breeding policy hasn’t changed, we breed for type, udder quality, feet and legs, SCC and longevity with an aim for five lactations. Production isn’t something we breed for, we know that we can grow crops to feed for milk, although with the cheese business we should pay more attention to protein.”
When it comes to favorite cow families everyone shares the same thoughts. Gretchen, with 80 milking members in the herd, quickly rises to the top. Dorothee said: “We are constantly pleased with how uniform and consistent the Gretchen family breeds, they have well attached udders with super udder quality and good production, plus they are quiet and easy to work with.”
This family also lays claim to Great, the GoAway 2 Year Old shown at Schau der Besten. But, most importantly Anna and Dorothee’s favorite cow, Gesha an EX-94 Goldwyn from an EX-91 Toystory then a VG-87 Titanic. Smiling while describing her, Anna said: “She ticks all the boxes, she is a dream to work with, possesses a lot of type and production, is always healthy and gets pregnant easily. We hope to flush her soon to strengthen this line in the herd.”
Backed by generations of successful show cows, including Starleader Gracie EX-92, Gesha stood Honourable Mention at Schau der Besten 2016 and in the same year represented Germany at the European Championship in Colmar.
Another homebred family that provided the highlight of Conny’s show career was Enhancer Arnika EX-94. Arnika was the Champion at the European Red and White Show in 1996 and is from the same family that also produced Breeze daughter Anett EX-91, the Reserve Champion European Red and White Show 2000.
Investment in outside genetics doesn’t happen often but when it does it follows the breeding policy for type and strong cow families. The most recent investment is Afrika VG-89 3yr, an Atwood daughter from the German bred Talent Angola EX-91 x VG-86 Champion x EX-91 Bonatus. Afrika is milking in her third lactation and stood first at Schau der Besten 2018. Purchased from Friedhelm Steenken, she is owned in partnership with Yasin Zeh and Erik Buscherhoff.
Previously, three Talent embryos were purchased from Hillcroft Leader Melanie EX-96 resulting in a strong star for the family with three Excellent cows in the herd, a Destry and two Bradnicks as well as two [AP1] Goldwyn daughters and one by Golden Dreams.
With the exception of three Jerseys, the herd of 500 milking cows with 400 young stock is pedigree Holstein, which provides opportunities for genetics sales. Adding to the yearly genetics income, each year the farm sells 100 surplus fresh calved 2 Year Olds privately. Cows are milked three times a day through a 20:40 Dairymaster parlour. “We have recently installed Heat Time to help with heat detection, but we prefer to use our eyes for cow management and use technology as a tool,” said Dorothee.
It is evident from visiting Derboven that the family is focused, driven and forward thinking, and this foresight has led to the diversification to cheese production to facilitate all three daughters being involved in the business.
Now with the next generation involved, Conny’s responsibilities are feeding cows, field work and educating visitors on tours around the farm, while Annette’s time is split between the office and café. Eldest daughter Anna was first to return to the farm in 2005 and is heavily involved with cow management and reproduction. Since starting a family, Anna has swapped milking with the office work for the farm. Youngest daughter Dorothee’s main focus is cow management and milking. Cathrin is responsible for cheese production and the running of the on-farm café.
Alongside Conny, Anna and Dorthee, the farm also employs Dorothee’s partner, Sonke Harries, four apprentices who are in college one day a week, one part-time person and two evening milkers. In 2010 a 190kW Biogas plant was built on the farm to add another, more consistent income. The plant is fed with slurry, spoiled and left-over feed. Three photovoltaic systems were added to the plant and in 2012 the plant was extended to 250kW. “With no quota system our milk price can be volatile, but the biogas remains a consistent income which is particularly helpful during times of poor milk price. Two years ago our milk price was 21 cents per litre and out cost of production is around 30 cents, we really appreciated having added income during that time,” explained Anna.
In 2014 an old building was renovated to a cheese dairy, café and farm shop, allowing them to diversify into cheese production while using the on-farm café to expand the business.
Since production started it has grown to use 6000 litres of milk per week to produce 12 different varieties of cheese and quark. The most popular cheese is Bunkemuhler, a plain five month matured cheese. Some of the other cheeses are flavoured with ingredients like chilli, pepper, ham and the most popular Fenugreek.
This added entity provided the girls with their own focus while working together to improve public perception of the agricultural industry. Cheese is sold through the farm shop and café, farmers markets and in shops and supermarkets within a 50km radius. Cathrin and Annette run the cheese production and café with three members of staff, two full time and one part time.
Marketing of the cheese is Cathrin’s department and she is focussing on increasing sales and growing the business. From March through to Christmas the café is open from 9am to 6pm and can attract up to 100 customers per day.
In an age of vegan campaigns and bad publicity on agriculture it is very reassuring to see a farm being proactive about portraying the industry in a positive way. Considerable time and investment goes in to making their pristinely tidy farm welcoming and well informed for visitors, with signs around the farm. The signs cover the farm’s history and successes and also provide detailed information in each area of the farm to explain the age of animals housed there and how they are managed.
Conny’s job of touring visitors around the farm is seen as one of the most important job. “We always want people to leave with a good impression,” explains Dorothee, “we are focussed on showing the industry in a positive way and the farm is always open to the public. It is difficult to explain and reason with critical visitors. I guess people are entitled to their own views, but we try to ensure people leave with a positive impression of agriculture. Being able to offer them the end product in the café and shop also adds to the experience.”
The increase of cheese production is in Derboven’s future plans, with Cathrin looking to increase sales. This goal will be achieved with Anna and Dorothee’s aim to create a nucleus of around 80 Jerseys. “Farming is a satisfying job, you can see the fruits of your labour, we are always being rewarded, whether it be a heifer calf born, an Excellent classification or positive comments from visitors, there is always a sense of achievement,” comments Anna.
With passion and dedication driving the team at Derboven the future is looking very bright for their business enterprise.
- Milk 500 Holsteins
- Herd Classification: Average 85.2 points
- Milk production average: 11,640kg 3.97%bf and 3.37%p
- 400 hectares growing grass, maize, Lucerne and alfalfa
- Cow TMR ration: 4kg grass silage, 9kg corn silage, 1kg Lucerne hay, 1.5kg malt spent grains, 2kg rape, 5kg maize powder, 0.5kg minerals.
- Current service sires: Solomon, County, Fitz, Cinderdoor, Tonka, Kingboy, Reflector, Unix, Goldchip, Seaver and GoAway.
- Calves fed on milk for 70 days, fed pellets and introduced to the cow’s TMR ration at 5 weeks until 4 months and then move on to heifer ration.
- Heifers and dry cows are grazed at pasture during the summer.