Born in 1950, Henny Swinkels was the eldest of a farming family which had pigs, chickens, cows, and a piece of land, just like any farmer in the province he grew up in (Brabant, the Netherlands). His grandfather died when Henny was only six years old, but he still has vivid memories of him. “Allow the calves to roam freely, that will give them muscles and muscles is meat,” Henny regales fondly. “So we set the calves free to roam around in an unused pig-sty. Milk or milk replacer? That was a battle between opa and the father, six of one and half a dozen of the other! We split the difference in the end, and went for 50-50”.
Henny remembers that the first milk replacer was a hard block of powder that you had to smash with a hammer and the first silos were filled by the bag. The calves were given an egg a day and they would hold the eggs up to a light to see if they had any blood spots in them. They were the prime choice for the calves. He also remembers what life was like for a farmer’s son in the 1950s. It looked something like this: up very, very early; feed the calves; cycle 45 minutes to serve at mass, and then back from church to school.
As we are talking to Henny, he mentions Wimke the Kurver, a regional producer of milk replacer whose business would later become Hendrickx and Nutreco. Wimke had managed to convince Henny’s father to build a large barn for 80 calves, which was revolutionary for the time. It attracted lots of visitors to the farm, from France to Italy, and then Wimke suggested they adapt the chicken shed and dedicate that to the calves
as well. The farm soon became a model farm that included a viewing window so that the visitors would not disturb the animals. Not that the farm made lots of money as a result. The Swinkels family was just as poor as the other farmers in Brabant.
Henny was at secondary school when he was called home. His father was unable to continue his hard work on the farm due to illness, which meant Henny would have to finish his schooling in the evenings. Henny found his farming world a little too con- stricting, and chose to go back to school, to agricultural school. He passed with distinc- tion and was offered numerous jobs in the agricultural sector. He chose to join Friesche Vlag for its additional training programme and started there as a junior in the laboratory.