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Guided visit of the pig farm “Wolkenhoeve” in Geel, Flanders

On 03/06/2016, in All posts, by Animal Welfare Intergroup
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On June 2, Eurogroup for Animals and the office of Jeppe Kofod (S&D, DK), leader of the working group on pig welfare of the Intergroup for the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, organised a guided visit of the pig farm “Wolkenhoeve” (http://www.wolkenhoeve.be/) in Geel (Flanders, Belgium). Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL, NL) and Stefan Eck (GUE/NGL, DE) also joined the visit, together with several cross-party political advisers and assistants. The scope of the visit was to witness first-hand an example of a mutilation-free pig farm which otherwise operates under standard commercial conditions. The Wolkenhoeve is a family business that breeds and fattens pigs, run by Mr. and Mrs. Peeters, their son and their daughter. When the crisis of the pig sector hit prices hard, instead of increasing the size of his farm Mr. Peeters decided to go in the opposite direction, pursuing quality over quantity. He gradually decreased his sow herd, from 220 to the current 80 breeding sows; he stopped castrating surgically and was the first farmer in Belgium to use vaccination against boar taint, which increases lean meat content of the carcasses, thus adding to their value; under advice of his veterinarian, he then also stopped tail docking and tooth clipping.  Mutilation-free pig farming allowed him to reduce piglet mortality significantly, and to practically eliminate all preventive antibiotic use. His pigs are now treated with antibiotics only if they are sick, and on an individual basis (no mass treatments).

a wolkenhoeve 1                     a wolkenhoeve 2

Additionally, the pigs are fed a custom-made diet that is composed mostly of ingredients locally sourced (milk serum from a local goat dairy farm,  brewery residues, potato peels). Finally, they are transported to a local abattoir, just 8 km away from their place of birth and fattening. Mr. Peeters attended a 3-year butchery course and began selling his meat in his farm shop, as well as at weekly markets in the area. At present, in times when the conventional European pig sector is in a profound crisis, relying on EU subsidies for survival, Mr. Peeters is running his own successful business, with a market stall which operates 6 days a week at different locations, and an on-farm shop with a constantly growing base of customers (currently 1000/week).

During the visit, the MEPs, Eurogroup and the several political advisors present could see the farrowing units, where the sows that have given birth are kept with their piglets for 4 weeks, the group housing for pregnant sows, the fattening units and the boar taint vaccination methodology. Mr. Peeters replied to all our questions and was very willing to engage in conversations concerning his vision of farming, and of how food should be produced with as much respect for the animals as possible.

We are very grateful for the chance we were provided to see an example of a farmer who is making efforts to improve animal welfare, even within a conventional setting, as this is not a “higher welfare” or organic farm. We also greatly appreciated the transparency of Mr. Peeters in welcoming us and answering to all our questions.

a Wolkenhoeve 3

 YouTube video by Aino Valtanen, Assistant to Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, President of the Intergroup

YouTube video by the office of Jeppe Kofod MEP, Chairman of the working group on pig welfare

 

 

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