Farm dream comes true for Dutchman

From the densely populated Netherlands, the expansive countryside in Västerbotten appears as a place with endless possibilities. "It feels like finding home," says Pieter Sikkema.

The dog Saga, Chantal, Pieter and little Zoë.

The dog Saga, Chantal, Pieter and little Zoë.

Foto: Marie Lindström

Frostkåge2023-08-31 13:30

When Pieter Sikkema came to Sweden in 2016 he initially worked on various farms in Hälsingland. After working almost exclusively with other Dutch people, he then sought out farms in Västerbotten where everyone was Swedish, which meant he then had to learn Swedish the hard way.

– In the beginning it was difficult, but then it took only two months to learn the language you need to work on a farm. If you're going to date, it would have been more difficult because you can't just talk about cows, says Pieter, in flawless Swedish with some elements of rural dialect.

He doesn't now have to worry about dating as he has been joined on the farm by Chantal van Veen. She also comes from the Netherlands and they met online. Together they have 1-year-old Zoë.

The whole family, except for the dog Robin, gathered in the barn.

The farm is located in Frostkåge, and Pieter did not hesitate when the opportunity arose to buy it in April 2020.

– Looking back, I feel that I got in at the right time to build a business. Before the price increases and the war in Ukraine. It hasn't got any easier, but it's going quite well, he says.

It has always been Pieter's dream to have his own farm. His grandfather was a farmer and a great inspiration. That's where he learned the trade and how to work with cows, which he describes as peaceful animals. But there was no family farm, and in the Netherlands it would have been impossible to buy a farm at market price.

The farm was fully operational when Pieter took it over, but it had a milking pit where the cows were milked, which can take up to four hours a day. So Pieter invested in improvements such as a milking robot and a feeding system. This allows him to manage a farm of over a hundred cows almost entirely by himself. But just because the cows are milking themselves doesn't mean Pieter can sit back and relax.

This cow was not let in by the milking robot. She was kindly let out again.

– I start at six in the morning by checking the barn, feeding the calves, and laying out new bedding. Then sometimes you have to fetch cows and scrape the cubicles twice a day. There's always something to do, but I try to be inside the house by seven in the evening.

At the moment, the cows are in the barn because, due to this rainy summer, the ground is too wet to let them out. Pieter shows off the milking robot, which uses a chip to detect which cows are ready to be milked. The cow gets a small reward in the form of concentrated feed. While Pieter talks to Norran's reporter, one cow walks around the milking station hoping to get her cow candy. But it's no use, because the robot says no, she's not ready, and won't let her in.

With the robot and the feeding system, it's possible to get accurate data on how much each cow eats, how much milk she produces, the fat content in the milk, and so on.

Calves chilling out.

– There are three harvests of grass a year, unlike in the Netherlands where there can be five or six harvests. We also grow some grains, but I outsource all tractor driving. Sometimes I have an intern, but I find it difficult to delegate work and let someone else take over.

As a farmer, you don't have any days off or vacation weeks, but Pieter doesn't seem too bothered by that. Sometimes you can manage a family outing, and then winter comes when things usually slow down a bit.

– In the Netherlands, it's six months of summer and six months of autumn, so you have time for more harvests. On the other hand, it's nice to have a real winter like here.

What happens if you get sick?

– You can't afford to get sick.

Once a year, however, he does go back to his homeland for a few days to visit family and friends. But it can feel a bit intense.

– I miss home when I'm in the Netherlands. It's stressful when you're trying to meet everyone back home. Then it's calm and nice when you get back. With today's technology, you can have video calls and see each other.

Zoë likes being in the barn and visiting the calves and other animals.

Chantal also enjoys the peace and quiet in Sweden.

– It's a completely different lifestyle here. In the Netherlands, I worked in psychiatry, and it's more stressful there. Here, people are relaxed and easygoing. Whatever you don't get done today can wait until tomorrow, she says.

Is there anything you miss about your homeland?

– No, there's nothing I miss, says Pieter.

– If it's any food or something, I can order it and have it delivered here. I'm extremely happy that I bought the farm, and I see no advantages to moving back.

Is there any local speciality you like?

– I have never tried surströmming and I will never try it, says Pieter firmly.

Närgången kossa.
Närgången kossa.