Raising cattle in the Drowned land of Saeftinghe

Kris Van Royen, beef and pig farmer, Netherlands

Right on the Belgian-Dutch border, in the Prosperpolder, we find Kris Van Royen and her husband, Geert’s cattle and pig farm: Saeftingherhof. The farm specializes in a very special meat, called “pré salé meat”. Women in Ag had a talk with Kris about what that is exactly.

Kris, could you introduce yourself?

I am Kris Van Royen and I run the Saeftingherhof in the beautiful hamlet of Prosperpolder on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, with my husband Geert Meersschaert. I come from the agricultural sector, as I grew up around my parents’ arable farm, which my brother later took over. However, I decided to study garden architecture and graphic design, and after my studies I worked for five years in graphic design and another five in banking before deciding to join my husband on the farm.

How did the farm start?

Originally, Geert, like me, worked full-time. He was a representative for a feed company, and at one point received a newborn calf as a gift from a customer. And that was the first step towards our own farm. For a few years we kept our animals in our parents’ stables before we decided to buy a farm in 1991. We expanded this farm to what it is today: a cattle farm with 270 Belgian Blue cattle and a pig farm where the pigs are fattened.

Our cattle graze in the salty nature reserve “The Drowned Land of Saeftinghe” (Het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe) for 6 months a year. This gives the meat its unique “pré salé” (“pre salted”, red.) taste, a slightly salty taste and a beautiful dark red colour. We also started selling our meat, the Saeftingher pré salé meat, directly from our farm to the consumers via our website in 2014.

What’s your role on the farm?

My tasks mainly consist of two parts: the daily care of the pigs on the one hand, and on the other hand the responsibility for the complete meat processing and sale of our Saeftingher pré salé meat.

That includes marketing, taking and processing orders, and receiving customers. I am also the hostess of the Groot Saeftinghe border park, which will be the largest nature experience park in Europe. Our farm is located in the heart of this area, where people come to walk, experience nature, bird watch..

I welcome the visitors who come for a tour on the farm and present them with pré salé meat samples.

We are also co-participants in the “solar train”. This electric train can be rented for tours and day trips in the nature reserve. We have even worked out some arrangements with a few other co-participants.

What piece of advice do you wish somebody had given you before you started?

We started our farm from nothing. This means that we had to figure out and discover everything ourselves, and that comes with a lot of ups and downs. Someone could have told us that.

What piece of advice would you like to pass along?

Go for your own adventure, but be sure to ask advice from your parents or other people in your chosen field. They have a wealth of experience and expertise built up over many years and can give you precious pointers. Also, it is really important to know your math if you want to start in this sector!

What makes a woman in agriculture so strong, in your opinion?

Women in agriculture have come a long way. Nowadays, a woman on the farm is the manager, either by herself or with her partner. Working on a farm combined with the care of a family is hard, and the women doing that are strong and driven!

 


Kris Van Royen (58) and her husband Geert have been running Saeftingherhof since 1991 in the hamlet of Prosperpolder, near the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe, a unique brackish water mud and salt marsh area on the Western Scheldt.

This area is the playground of the farm’s herd of Belgian Blues. 90 specially selected females between 4 and 7 years old are allowed to graze for six months a year on an area of 230 hectares in this nature reserve, which floods twice a day with the salty water of the river Scheldt. They feed on the saline vegetation (spoonbill, glasswort, sea aster, salt marsh grasses and false spurrey) that is unique to the area.

By eating this vegetation the animals obtain their unique pré-salé, or lightly salted, taste and the meat gets a dark red colour.

Since 2014, the Saeftingherhof has been selling its meat directly on the farm in mixed packages. By direct selling on the farm, Kris and Geert want to contribute to sustainable agriculture. Always with sustainability in mind, a cow is also only distributed when it is completely sold.

You can find Saeftingherhof on Facebook or via their website 

 

 

 

This article appeared in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-02. Click here to read the magazine

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