STERKSEL, The Netherlands—“You always have to have a new goal,” Gerbert Oosterlaken, a pork producer from Beers, a small town in the southern part of the Netherlands, told a delegation of American visitors this week. “The pig farmer’s goal is never really reached.”
Oosterlaken is an active producer, serving on the board of the country’s Pig Farmers Union of LTO (similar to the National Pork Board). His commitment is to the producer group’s animal health efforts. He has multiple production sites, and plans to sell his 280-sow site to replace it with a new 600-sow site in the Elstweg 42 sector.
He told Pork Network that the unit will be a four-week, batch farrowing system, designed to produce 1,400 to 1,500 pigs at a time. The point will be to provide a truck-load of pigs. “We’ll be moving to a 24-day average weaning age with a minimum age of 21 days,” he said.
He’s working through the concept of using farrowing pens, where the piglets will be left in the space upon weaning. “This is to reduce stress; we will keep litters together. It also allows for better feed acceptance,” he noted.
The farrowing pen is a new system and will require “different management,” Oosterlaken said. He has tinkered with four different options in the past 1.5 years to fine-tune the process. Along with a larger surface area for the sow and litter, the space has 60 percent slatted flooring and he provides chopped straw to give the sow something to chew on. A creep space is provided, and piglets are removed from the sow and brought back to nurse periodically for the first three days to minimize crushing.
Piglet mortality rose during the transition period, but he indicated that it has since stabilized. “The sows milk better through the four weeks of lactation,” Oosterlaken said. “The loose farrowing sows take half the time to farrow,” he said, “and it’s better for the sow, the piglet and for me.”
The piglets move on to a grower site at nine or 10 weeks of age.
Already housing gestation sows in groups and not castrating male pigs, Oosterlaken is approaching retailers about his pen-farrowing system and the fact that his pork “is the future.”
He told the visiting group that he wants to target his pork specifically for the Dutch consumer, and create a brand. He admits that traceablity needs to be worked out and that other producers with the same system and procedures will be needed to make the supply practical. He said a dozen or so colleagues are interested in the group farrowing system and marketing idea. Asked when he thought he’d have such a branded marketing program put together, Oosterlaken told Pork Network, “two years, maybe three—I think we’ll be there.”
Included in his overall business plan is a windowed viewing area where the public can stop by any day between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to see his pigs and production system. Future plans are to include a webcam for Internet broadcasts. “I want to let consumers see that what they eat is produced here, and show what and why we do things,” Oosterlaken added. “You have to be proud of what you do, and have fun.”
He has planted fruit trees on the site, which he is encouraging the public to pick the fruit, and is providing a small picnic area. Oosterlaken did receive a 30,000 euro grant from the pig organization to establish the consumer viewing option.
Throughout The Netherlands pork producers have a day where they open their farms to consumers. Oosterlaken and area producers, involving about 25 sites, combine to offer a “Day of the Pig” each year, where they invite consumers out to see for themselves. “We have lots of activities, especially for the kids,” he said, which will continue to be a priority. “I’m going to focus on reaching the kids, because teachers are teaching them things that are not true.”