In a fascinating article by anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen in De Groene Amsterdammer last month, she describes how farmers’ association LTO, together with the Dutch government, has set up a system for detecting and dealing with early warning signs of the mistreatment of farm animals.
A database kept by Vetrouwensloket Welzijn Landbouwhuisdieren (the confidential office for the well-being of farm animals) tracks symptoms such as excess deaths and diseases, hurt and crippled animals, parasites, poor development of young animals, and so on.
Nobody could object to such a system, but the database also registers information about the farmers themselves based on the idea that unhappy farmers make unhappy farm animals. This information includes attendance at meetings and the number of friendships a farmer maintains. Do farmers stop answering their phones and do their relationships fail? It is all registered.
If the signals reach a certain danger level, a team is sent to the farmers in question to try and help them get back on track. Magazine Veeteelt ran a headline in 2010 that aptly describes the duality of this approach: “Animal neglect can happen to anyone. [This system] prevents a negative image of the industry.”
The result is that some farmers—the loners, the ‘known’ problem cases—are pushed into extreme transparency through a finely mazed network of ‘reporters’ or ‘snitches’, depending on who you talk to. These are often the ‘erfbetreders’, a Dutch word I did not know until yesterday meaning ‘those who walk onto the farmyard’—the people who have to be on the farm for business and who rat out the farmer on the side.
Van Leeuwen’s four page article goes into incredible detail on how farmers are viewed by the general public. She hypothesizes that the Dutch have lost contact with farming world. Between 1947 and 1990 the percentage of people working in agriculture dropped from 20% to 4%. The general public are now in the habit of seeing farmers through isolated incidents, such as the 2011 tragedy in which a farmer from Brummen, Gelderland killed about 100 cows with a tractor and then killed himself. Van Leeuwen speaks of “a trend of viewing farmers as professional animal abusers”.
The result is that farmers have not just become an out-group, but in order to close the ranks they have decided to nip rare and extreme cases of animal abuse in the bud by creating their own out-group of lonely and eccentric farmers. Ironically, this does not seem to apply to factory farming, a practice to which pretty much everybody turns a blind eye.
Van Leeuwen’s article, “De weg van alle vlees—dierverwaarlozing op de boerderij“, is available on the web (in Dutch), but unfortunately behind a pay wall.
Tags: excentrics, farm animals, farmers, farming, farms, loners, LTO, privacy
A painting on display for some 140 years at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, United Kingdom by Dutch painter Hendrick van Anthonissen entitled ‘Gezicht op Scheveningen’ (‘View of Scheveningen sands’ in English) from 1641 has recently been restored, uncovering a stranded whale.
One of the men in the painting seemed to be hanging in mid-air when in fact he was sitting on the whale. Someone at some point in history thought it would be good to paint over the whale, but nobody knows why. Conservator Shan Kuang has apparently not been able to date the extra layer of paint, though she suspects it may be from the 18th century and done because an owner thought the whale was repulsive or that a dealer thought the picture would sell better without it.
Here is a video made by Cambridge University featuring Shan Kuang, the conservator who made the discovery.
(Links: www.theguardian.com, historiek.net, Photo: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK)
Tags: Cambridge, restoration, Scheveningen, whale
Ornithologist Gerard Brinkman of Castricum, North Holland, has set up a website to help people in the Netherlands find out what kind of bird they saw but don’t know its name. The website, ‘welke vogel is dit’ (‘what bird is this’) helps people identify a bird in three steps. First, what does it look like, then what is its main colour and possible group, then from a list you get to see what could be your bird. Yes it’s in Dutch, so brush up on that as well while you’re at it.
The online bird watching with webcams from 2010 is still online.
(Link: www.rtvnh.nl, Photo of Iago Sparrow by Hans Zwitzer, some rights reserved)
Tags: birds, Castricum
I saw this Egyptian goose with its chicks yesterday near my home in Amsterdam.
As a Dutch proverb has it, in mei legt elke vogel een ei (‘every bird will lay an egg in May’), but apparently the proverb is getting further and further from the truth these days. An ever warming climate seems to have caused many birds to lay eggs earlier in the year—Vroege Vogels says the average day a songbird lays an egg has moved 14 days forward between 1986 and 2011. The site also points out that songbirds need insects to feed their young and insects have started to become active earlier in the year.
Like the parakeets I mentioned a couple of months ago, Egyptian geese are intruders from much warmer climes, but a quick web search didn’t reveal any info on wintry egg-laying habits. Do any of our readers know if these birds always hatch their young in late February or early March?
Tags: Egyptian geese, swans, winter
You get invited to an American IT company’s opening party in Amsterdam smack downtown with food and drinks. You get there are and guests and playing with two tiger cubs, which makes you feel uncomfortable and you call the animal protection services.
Not only was it morally questionable to have the tigers amusing the guests, but apparently their caregiver didn’t have any papers for them, making them illegal to own in this country. On Facebook I’ve read that the tigers were bought from a bankrupt circus, and if that’s true, they should have had some sort of papers, just like anything else the company buys.
An employee of the company tried to diffuse the tiger incident by claiming that their “Manila office finds it to be normal to eat fermented bird fetus known as “Balut”, and our Istanbul office eats sheep intestins known as “Kokorec”, and our European and American offices eat pig, oysters, and other things that our other offices don’t find usual, but we don’t judge each other based on these.” [all typos left in]
Since when does an American company not know anything cultural about the Netherlands? There are thousands of American companies here functioning normally without a circus show at office parties.
(Link: www.parool.nl, Photo of Tiger by ArranET, some rights reserved)
Just as spring began in 2012 we told you about how European bees are disappearing from the urban landscape, although many things are being done to counter this. As an unknowing consumer, I’ve noticed that the honey I buy has a lot of ‘non-EU’ honey in it, which means it’s probably from North America or the Middle East.
You could imagine that although keeping bees at home to gawk at (I like to try and spot the queen bee) and take their honey sounds really cool (pics), it has a hipster vibe to it. Back in 2011 Philips designed a beehive that you can place indoors, while the bees enter the hive from a sort of flower pot outdoors, so no bees flying around the house.
According to Philips, their urban beehive is a sustainable, environmentally friendly product concept that has direct educational effects. The city benefits from the pollination, while humans benefit from the honey and therapeutic value of observing the bees. As global bee colonies are in decline, this design contributes to the preservation of the species and encourages the return of the urban bee.
This sounds great if you’re up to smoking out the bees when you want the honey because you’ll need to do so eventually and you’ll need to have your own house to make those kinds of holes in your walls.
(Link: www.design.philips.com, Photo of Bee swarm by quisnovus, some rights reserved)
Tags: beehive, bees, honey, Philips
Considering how much land the Dutch have reclaimed over the years, giving an island back to nature is definitely newsworthy.
Back in 2012 we told you about how two lucky people could apply as a tandem to watch birds on the island of Rottumeroog as a summer job. Unfortunately, last December, a storm apparently weakened the dunes around the house, which has now been destroyed, leaving the island uninhabited.
Only last month the only trail on Rottumeroog was officially named ‘Jan Brandspad’. The island’s municipality, Eemsmond, had to give the trail a name as required by law. There were even plans to put up a street sign.”
(Link: www.iamexpat.nl, Photo of Texel island by Searocket, some rights reserved)
Tags: island, Rottum
The Blijdorp zoo in Rotterdam announced the birth of a rare mouse-like creature last Thursday, a Black and rufous elephant shrew.
These critters originally come from East Africa and have a conservation status of ‘vulnerable’. They are rarely born in captivity, in fact before this birth there was only one other instance known in Europe (a child of the same mother). The zoo calls it fortunate that father Gambit and mother Gloria even hit it off (it would be, considering the father was flown in to breed).
The zoo isn’t entirely sure when the young elephant shrew was born, in fact it was first discovered by a visitor. Despite being unsure of its sex, people have already named it Guusje.
(Photo of a shrew held in the US by Joey Makalintal, some rights reserved)
Tags: Black and rufous elephant shrew, Diergaarde Blijdorp, zoos
Made possible by Studio diip in Leerdam, South Holland, a goldfish is able to swim in a small tank on wheels and drive itself around the room. It can swim towards something shiny and the small tank on wheels will go in that direction. The device is powered by a camera and computer vision software, putting the goldfish at the wheel. We’re also told that the fish gets to go back to a normal tank after going out for a spin.
Although not a proper comparison, it does remind of a cat on a Roomba.
(Photo of Goldfish by angs school, some rights reserved)
Tags: fish, Leerdam, South Holland
The Healthy Horse Hydration, already a mouthful to pronounce for many, is meant to be a sports drink for horses, the first ever of its kind.
For the record, if I were asked to come up with a better product name (I do get hired for product slogans), I’d call it ‘Power Horse’ or maybe ‘Horse Power’.
After a good run, the idea is to give your horse some HHH (why does that sound like a drug?) which apparently smells of apples. According to the video found in the link, it took hundreds of thousands of euro to develop the product, a pouch full of powder that dissolves in water when stirred that does look like apple juice. One of the scientists explains that the horse drinks the juice in the bucket thinking it will also get an apple and just ends up drinking the entire bucket.
On the whole, giving your horse a good drink after a good run sounds fine. Humans more often than not gulp down sports drinks for all the wrong reasons, including the insane amount of sugar in them. As well, comparing HHH to caffeine or taurine based drinks is already a huge mistake, as they are marketed as ‘energy’ drinks and not as sports drinks, plus they actually dehydrate instead of rehydrate.
And then there’s the Dutch word ‘paardenmiddel’ (paarden = horses, middel = means), which means ‘last ditch effort’ for something, which funny enough could work against the Dutch market image and partially explain the sour apple comments about HHH so far. Then again, if people don’t know the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks, their comments are for entertainment purposes only.
(Link: www.omroepbrabant.nl, Photo of Oostvaardersplassen horses by fransdewit, some rights reserved)
Tags: apples, horses