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Denmark 2: Individual solutions of pig farmers

By Christian Mühlhausen, Landpixel

What is needed, not only for pig farmers in Denmark, is the desire to break new ground. To focus on one's strengths. To stand out from the crowd. Farmers in the Jutland region show examples of how such farm development can take place.

Bertel Hestbjerg: Organic pig farm

"Poppelgris" is Danish and means poplar pig. Organic farmer Bertel Hestbjerg developed this term for himself. It may not sound as glamorous as the Spanish Iberico pig, which is fattened under oak trees, but it has a charm all of its own. 1,500 sows and 27,000 organic free-range pigs, which Bertel and his wife Marianne fatten every year, live in the open. Poplar groves planted especially for this purpose provide shade and offer the animals variety.

The farm, which operates on three sites and a total of 1,000 ha, is the largest Danish organic pig farm, with 30 employees, its own marketing under three different own brands, and a stake in an organic slaughterhouse.

Larger areas of arable land are divided into paddocks, each of which houses a section of poplar grove and a wallowing area, as well as tin huts for weather protection and for building nests for farrowing. The paddocks are separated by electric fences, which prevent the sows from crossing them, but not the piglets: they gather in smaller and larger groups and cross the neighbouring paddocks as a "big kindergarten". After ten weeks of rearing with the sow, the piglets are weaned at 23 to 31 kg and go to their own fattening pens. Every week 520 pigs are brought to slaughter.

Own quality brand

With his own brand "Poppelgris" Hestbjerg sets his own standards for animal welfare and exceeds the requirements for both the EU organic seal and the national Danish organic seal. He is convinced that he has set the right course. Despite the social and political pressure on the whole concept, he hopes to be allowed to produce at all in the future.

With the premium brand "Bertels Gris", through which special cuts are marketed, and the online shop "Maltidsboxen", through which organic pork is shipped throughout Denmark, the family has launched two more labels on the market.

Looking at consumer behaviour, Hestbjerg adds: "Today, customers are focused on sustainability, animal welfare, carbon footprint and biodiversity. We try to communicate these elements with our brands. This is a good story."

Jørgen Jakobsen: Focus on animal welfare

Tail docking and castration have been publicly discussed topics in pig farming for some time. In Denmark, spurred on by numerous media reports, it is currently piglet mortality. The focus is mainly on sow farms, but also on piglet rearing and fattening.

Long before the media discovered it, Jørgen and John Jakobsen from Lasby in Central Jutland tackled the issue. Following the motto "Every dead pig is one too many", the pig farmers have, in a joint effort, almost halved the mortality rate from 3.5 % ten years ago to 1.8 % today. The Jakobsens fatten 38,000 pigs a year on four sites.

38,000 pigs - that was not foreseeable a good 40 years ago when Jørgen Jakobsen bought the family farm from his parents, as is customary in Denmark.  Twelve cows and five breeding sows were on the farm; Jakobsen gradually expanded the sow herd to 500 sows. After his son John joined ten years ago, they switched to pure fattening. It is booming. Today the farm has 750 ha of arable land, 468 ha of which are leased.

A new fattening house is currently being planned, and Jørgen Jakobsen is optimistic about the future: "The situation on the markets always fluctuates, but we have our management under control and will earn money again. We are hanging in there," he says and tells of professional colleagues who are leaving their stables empty because of the high feed costs. "The farms that are too small and less well-positioned will not reopen," Jakobsen predicts, even though there are hardly any governmental brakes on growth in Denmark. "In Germany, for example, there is a problem with structure. Farms with less than 20,000 pigs fattened annually will be too small to survive in the long run," he is certain.