Around the kitchen table

Aan de keukentafel

When I was studying to be a vet, I would never have guessed that I’d end up doing most of my work around kitchen tables. Or that I’d enjoy it so much, for that matter. My mission is to make pigs super healthy. And that’s why I’m working with the Sustainable Pork Value Chain as an external advisor. Some twenty farmers and I are taking the important steps towards reducing antibiotic use in their businesses to almost nil. What we’re doing is ensuring that the pigs are so healthy that they almost never, or rarely, need to be treated with medication. The farmers are mostly doing it on their own, using all sorts of methods to keep their animals healthy. And I advise them on how to achieve that goal.

In 2011 we began the first phase of this project. At the time, there were ten farmers on board. I would go into the sties with them and together we’d look at what measures would help improve the health of the pigs. From this, we identified a number of important success factors, such as clean and fresh drinking water, hygiene, custom feeding and the batch farrowing system. The above term means that piglets are born less frequently, so the farmer can give more attention to the ones that are born.

Having established these success factors, we began the second phase of the antibiotic-free chain project. New farmers have joined and they’ve started autonomously putting into practice what we’ve learned from phase one. They’re making action plans with their own vets and other important advisors, like the advisors who supply the pigs’ feed. Every farmer has a different plan, because no two businesses or farmers are the same. I get the fantastic job of supporting what they’re doing, explaining current developments, and now and again, advising them and steering them in the right direction. This is all done completely independently, with no interests on either side.

‘The participating farmers are using less antibiotics than the average.’

It’s terrific to see how much progress we’ve already made in a year and a half. The participating farmers are using less antibiotics than the average. In fact, it would be true to say they’re using far less than the national average.

Every so often I visit the farmers and we sit in the kitchen discussing their results. I look at the farmers’ figures in advance, and focus primarily on any that are health-related. For example, when the farmer has used medication, and why it was necessary. I’ll look at the pigs’ mortality rate and discuss anything that strikes me with the farmer, so he or she can make any adjustments needed. Sometimes this means I have to confront the farmer about things that aren’t going well, but usually we get to concentrate on what is working. And I can do all that without even having seen a pig. I concentrate mostly on the men and women behind the pigs. And I love doing it.

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