The proof is in the taste at this organic dairy farm

Letting cows be cows, horns and all

The Van de Voort family are not just organic farmers, but “natural” farmers. They eschew chemical pesticides, use only organic hay, and all their cows have their horns intact. They think you can taste the difference in their popular Remeker cheese.

“Do you hear those rooks over there, high up in the trees?” asks Jan Dirk van de Voort. “They make themselves useful right here on our farm by scouring all the cows’ dung heaps in the pasture for beetles. That’s how they spread the manure all over the grass. It takes them three weeks to work their way across the land.”

The Van de Voort family has lived and worked on land near the Lunteren Creek, in Gelderland province in the Netherlands, since 1650. Van de Voort currently runs the farm together with his wife, Irene, and their son, Peter. Their De Groote Voort family farm – named after the ford in the creek once found in the area – began adopting organic farming practices back in the early 1990s.

Going organic

It all started when Van de Voort and his wife decided to switch to an organic diet some years ago. “We did it simply because organic food tastes better,” he explains over coffee under their walnut tree. “The next step, then, was to take up organic farming as well.”

As it turns out, this mainly involved abandoning certain practices and substances, starting with the use of slurry and fertilizer to promote grass production, along with the use of chemicals.

Van de Voort: “It’s pretty straightforward: chemicals are detrimental to the soil and its ecological functions. Before I became an organic farmer, I would use 400 kilos of nitrogen and 70 tons of slurry a year per hectare.” While grass production initially declined, manure from the cows, which is distributed all over the fields, ensures that the farm produces more grass than ever.

It all started when Van de Voort and his wife decided to switch to an organic diet some years ago. “We did it simply because organic food tastes better,” he explains over coffee under their walnut tree. “The next step, then, was to take up organic farming as well.”

As it turns out, this mainly involved abandoning certain practices and substances, starting with the use of slurry and fertilizer to promote grass production, along with the use of chemicals.

Van de Voort: “It’s pretty straightforward: chemicals are detrimental to the soil and its ecological functions. Before I became an organic farmer, I would use 400 kilos of nitrogen and 70 tons of slurry a year per hectare.” While grass production initially declined, manure from the cows, which is distributed all over the fields, ensures that the farm produces more grass than ever.

“We switched simply because organic food tastes better”

- Jan Dirk van de Voort, Remeker

Yet the real transformation did not occur until 15 years ago, when the Van de Voort family banished antibiotics, anti-worm agents and insecticides from the land. They also gave up plowing the land, as this is disruptive to soil microorganisms. “Plowing causes a drop in the earthworm population, and it takes up to four years to restore the original population in terms of numbers,” Van de Voort says.

No more factory-produced animal feed

This is also when the farmer began substituting grass and locally grown grains for commercially produced animal feed to sustain the 85 cows grazing in the pastures from March to November. “I’m proud of having made that switch. Our Jersey cows normally need 40 percent concentrates or byproducts in their diet, but we managed to breed them in such a way that, since 2018, they can survive on grass alone, with a few grains added into the mix during the winter months.”

As the farmer explains, concentrates are expensive: “Organic feed is double the price of regular concentrates, plus you have no idea as to the ingredients of commercially produced feed. I don’t have that problem when I buy my grains from the next farm over.”

A truly unique cheese

Van de Voort couldn’t be more pleased with his cows’ new diet: “The milk is just so much more flavorful now. And because we turn all our milk into cheese, the quality of our cheese has also improved immeasurably. As with the grass and the cows, our approach to cheese production is mainly about avoiding the use of certain practices, such as adding artificial vitamins, pasteurization, homogenization, skimming, and adding artificial, refined salt. This method of cheese production really brings out the naturally delicious flavor of milk.”

“Because we turn all our milk into cheese, the quality of our cheese has also improved immeasurably.”


The cheeses produced by De Groote Voort, which have an edible, natural rind and have received several awards in the Netherlands and elsewhere, are sold under the “Remeker” label. The name is a nod to a plot of land in the vicinity of the farm known as Remeker (reem is the Dutch term for a piece of land bordered by trees, in this case oaks – ekers in Dutch). The oak trees continue to grace the land today.

Cow horns improve flavor

Wandering around the pastures at De Groote Voort and observing the cattle, one of the first things you notice is that all the cows have their horns intact. This is all part of the farmer’s plan: “Cows use their horns to store minerals, and cattle that still have their horns are more resistant to weather fluctuations and therefore better able to deal with changes in grass characteristics. This improves the quality of digestion of the manure. At the end of the day, cows with horns produce better-tasting milk.”

But there is also a downside to not dehorning your livestock: horned cows need more barn space to keep them from injuring each other. It’s an inconvenience that farmer Jan Dirk is willing to accept: “It’s a small price to pay for being able to keep real cows.”

“Cows with horns produce better-tasting milk”

- Jan Dirk van de Voort, Remeker

The Van de Voort family, who are served by Rabobank’s F&A team for the central Netherlands, has been able to afford additional costs such as keeping a larger barn and purchasing organic hay by eliminating other expenses such as pesticides, with the sale of their Remeker cheese. “I calculated that one liter of our milk earns us 2.03 euros because of the strong sales of our cheese. If you sell your organic milk to a milk production facility, you’ll only get around 55 cents per liter.”

Cows use their horns to store minerals


Siberian interns

And that’s exactly where things tend to go astray on organic farms, Van de Voort explains. “Organic cows are allowed up to 40 percent concentrates or byproducts in their diet. Since it will end up tasting pretty much the same as any other type of milk, you’ll have a hard time getting a better price. Also, the organic milk you produce will get lost in the mass production of the milk factory.”

His advice? “Organic farmers should use their milk to produce and market higher-quality products. As it stands, whatever value they might be able to add is wasted.” The De Groote Voort farm is also doing its bit to disseminate knowledge to peer farmers by offering near-daily tours and workshops, which also attract interest from students and experts from the Netherlands and other countries. “We’re currently hosting two interns from Siberia,” the farmer says.

So what are the farmer’s plans for the future? Van de Voort: “We’ll be increasing the number of cows from 85 to 110, as my youngest son will be joining the family business. I’m also interested in producing my own grains to feed our cows, so we’re on the lookout for more land. Other than that, we plan to happily continue farming the old-fashioned way.”