Henk cleans the cow stables
Henk cleans the cow stables

The days are lengthening, and spring has arrived. The heifers have recently been put out to pasture, while the two youngest calves wait in the old stable until they are also allowed onto the land. Farmer Henk Oostdam (78) closely follows the signs of nature. As soon as the leaves on the chestnut tree grow thick, the weather becomes mild, and the calves are ready to go outside. Oostdam navigates by many such natural signs: when the flies sting, rain is coming; a new moon often brings a change in weather.

Oostdam has been running his business for more than 40 years. Visitors feel as though time has stood still on his farm. He was a dairy farmer, milking a modest number of cows until he stopped around age 63. Nowadays, he raises calves owned by other farmers. Once they are inseminated and about to give birth, they return to the dairy farm and are succeeded by new calves.

There are probably few people in the Netherlands as closely attached to their surroundings as Oostdam. 'Farmer Henk,' as he is called by those who board their horses with him, has lived in the same place for almost eighty years. He resides in what was once the forester's cottage on the border between Voorhout and Rijnsburg. When Oostdam's mother died, his brother published an appeal in the newspaper for grazing land for rent, ensuring Oostdam wouldn't be lonely with the new arrival of horse enthusiasts. The farm now has 13 clients' horses. Everyone knows each other and helps out, and the farmer keeps an eye on things.

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How does it feel to be 72?

Why did you retire or why are you still working?

Why did you retire?

Why are you still working?

I never considered stopping. It's lucky that the horses came and the heifers are here. If nobody had turned up, it would have quickly been the end of me. When I was three, my father died. I recently learned he had been hit by a horse. My mother never spoke to me about it. When I was five, I moved to my stepfather's farm with my mother. A few years later, my little brother was born. I taught myself to milk; I could do it at eight. Once, when my stepfather was ill, I stepped in. I was only twelve at the time. When my stepfather died more than thirty years ago, my mother and I took over.

At first, we milked by hand, but later machines came in. Mother peeled the bulbs and maintained the vegetable garden. We had as many as thirty chickens. It was a mixed farm; my uncle grew bulbs, and my stepfather kept cows. I wasn't too keen on flower bulbs myself. There are still some leftover daffodils blooming in the pasture where the horses are now grazing. Since this year, I've had four chickens again.

The old hands of Henk
Henk takes a break with 4 of his 13 client horses
Henk takes a break with his horse clients
Henk feeds the chickens
Bedroom window of Henk
Henk rolls up his sleeves and is ready to get to work
Henk is resting on his sofa in his bedroom
Henk's cow stables
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What do you look forward to?

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What is your biggest concern?

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Life expectancy 2023

years

About the photographer

Annabel Oosteweeghel

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Annabel Oosteweeghel, a Dutch photographer born in 1969, blends visual arts with storytelling, focusing on socially relevant themes. Her debut photo book "Oblivious" garnered global recognition in 2015.

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