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In Denmark, Dancing Organic Dairy Cows Signal Start Of Summer


It's that time of year when the sun worshipers of Denmark say goodbye to the long, dark winter, throw open the doors and go prancing into the light. Wait, do cows prance? I guess they do. Sidsel Overgaard sent this report from a farm in southern Denmark.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: It's become something of a national holiday. On a Sunday in mid-April, hundreds of thousands of Danes put on their rubber boots and make their way to the nearest organic dairy farm. They wander around in the barns to admire the cows...


OVERGAARD: ...Sample bits of cheese and yogurt...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken) Yogurt.

OVERGAARD: ...And let the kids climb around on giant stacks of hay. Then, just before noon, everyone lines up outside the big barn doors.

MARTIN DALGAARD: We're just waiting for the cows to get out here for summertime.

OVERGAARD: Martin Dalgaard hasn't been to this event before, but he knows what's coming.

DALGAARD: (Laughter) A dance from the cows; they make a dance because they're happy. They're being closed out.

OVERGAARD: And yes, as soon as the farmer opens the gate, out they come, 300 cows leaping, bucking and tussling for joy as soon as they hit the grass.

YULIA JOSEPHSEN: (Foreign language spoken).

OVERGAARD: Young Yulia Josephsen, who calls a play by play from the sidelines, says she can identify with the feeling of being cooped up all winter.

YULIA: (Foreign language spoken).

OVERGAARD: "It must be really annoying," she says. "I would do the same as the cows." Okodag, or Organic Day, was started 12 years ago as a way of highlighting the fact that organic cows get to spend the summer outside as opposed to most conventional dairy cows.

SOREN PEDERSEN: (Foreign language spoken).

OVERGAARD: Soren Pedersen, who owns a dairy farm in nearby Ribe, says for him it's clear this is natural animal behavior and that's why he's in the process of converting his own farm to organic.

PEDERSEN: (Through interpreter) For me, it's not about the money.

OVERGAARD: But a good profit doesn't hurt and organic dairy farmers are doing very well right now, especially when compared with their nonorganic counterparts.

For months, the global price of conventional milk has been driven down by factors like a Russian sanction on Western dairy products and an oversupply by European farmers. In fact, it's been so low that most Danish farmers are selling their milk at a loss. The high export potential for organic milk, on the other hand, has the Danish government and dairy industry actually helping farmers like Pedersen who want to make the switch.

PEDERSEN: (Through interpreter) I am a little nervous that we could create too many organic farmers. I would hate to see that people can't make money on organics.

OVERGAARD: Danish agriculture has been going through a hard time. Last year, 160 farmers went bankrupt, which wouldn't be many in America but in this tiny country it's a near-record. This year looks to be off to an even worse start, according to government statistics. But Per Kolster, who heads an organization called Organic Denmark, says converting to organic agriculture could be an answer for at least some struggling farmers.

PER KOLSTER: If we look into the market situation, look into how it has been developing during the last 30 years, we can just see how the curves are growing there. They are going one way and that's up.

OVERGAARD: And that could mean more cows will be dancing for joy in Denmark.


OVERGAARD: For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Rodding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.