Lauren Houska may be young, but she knows plenty about agriculture and hog production in Iowa—and now she has insights about pig farming in Europe also. She grew up on a swine farm where she raised and showed pigs through 4-H and FFA. The Iowa State University junior studies agriculture, life sciences, ag communications, and international ag—and she works as a student administrative assistant at the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. During May she toured ag facilities in several Scandinavian countries—and her first person report is below.
The ISU group above, and Lauren at right–in her biosecurity pig huggin’ outfit.
From May 12 to 24, 2014, I trekked across three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) with a group of 20 other students from Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study their agricultural industries, pork production specifically. Though many aspects of pork production were similar to the techniques used in the United States, there were distinct differences. Some farmers in the United States may think they are being regulated out of business, but when I learned of the agricultural regulations in these countries, especially Denmark, I was blown away. Some observations:
** Reproduction Goals: While the average litter size in the United States is approximately 10 piglets with a 10% mortality rate, the Danish genetics company, DanAvl, has achieved an average litter size of about 15, and it has hopes to increase that number. Unfortunately, smaller piglets means higher mortality rate, at 13-15%. The large litter size goal is due to Denmark’s high number of piglets exported to Germany, where they are paid per piglet.
** Pig Care: There is a regulation from the European Union requiring all pigs, from sow to piglet, to have access to manipulation activities. Denmark requires “rooting and enrichment material” such as straw, sawdust, or rope, and plastic or metal chains. They must be able to manipulate the materials in a “natural fashion” and there must be a “sufficient amount,” though that is not as tightly regulated. There must also be isolated hospital pens available for sick individuals, equipped with heating and cooling capabilities and comfortable bedding.
** Sow Housing: Sweden and Finland follow the European Union’s regulations, which are strict to begin with, but Denmark has added on to those regulations. For example, currently sow housing systems require sprinkling systems, and sows may be housed in gestation stalls for 4 weeks after servicing. Immediate open housing after servicing will be required for facilities built on January 1, 2015, and after.
** Farrowing Requirements: Farrowing stalls are still used, but individuals in the Danish Food and Agriculture Council predict that they will also be regulated out of existence. Lactating sows will be required to be loose-housed in facilities built after 2021.The average weaning age is 28 days, and weaning is not allowed before 21 days.
** Piglet Management: The first thing I noticed was that they did not dock tails, as the rooting and enrichment materials are supposed to take care of tail biting problems. Teeth clipping is not allowed but grinding is, and anesthetics are required for castration. Milk replacer is allowed in the farrowing stalls to aid piglet growth, but smaller piglets cannot be taken from their mothers and put in a pen with only milk replacer. Cross-fostering is allowed and encouraged, since the piglets range so much in size.
** Finishing: Floor construction must be half solid and half drained for weaners, and finishers must have at least one third solid floor. Though it is not regulated, producers have found that partially open walls between pens encourage consistent dunging patterns, so pigs dung on the drained portion of the floors rather than the solid floors.
** Feed: Though this did not come as a surprise, much of the feed in all three countries is non-GMO, because that is what their consumers want. Many of Denmark’s producers home-mix their feeds, with the top ingredients being wheat, barley, soybean meal, and rapeseed meal.
** Manure Management: Producers are required to have contracts with their neighbors detailing how they are going to manage their manure. This includes how they are storing it and transporting it, and if they are going to spread it on surrounding fields.
** Antibiotics: Antibiotics are the most regulated sector of the pork industry. In Denmark, antibiotics are tracked by the government, and vets are allowed to prescribe a certain amount of antibiotics; if they go over, they can get in trouble. Likewise, if a farm is using too many antibiotics, the government can “yellow card” them, and a government vet will come in and basically try to tell them how to get back on track.
As you can see, European pig production is highly regulated, and even more so in Denmark. What surprised me, however, was the fact that the producers didn’t complain about or praise the regulations. Our group asked many questions about how these laws have affected their production, and most just gave a shrug and a smile, stating that it is just something they have to do to stay in business. Could this be where the United States is headed, with every aspect of production regulated, or will our producers maintain some of their freedom to choose the type of production that they see scientifically and financially fit?
by Lauren Houska (photos from L. Houska)