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Special Feature: ‘2013: A snapshot of Denmark’s journey to compliance’

Over the past two years, Niels Christian Dørken from Central Jutland’s Pig Advisory Service has spent over 50% of his time helping pig producers in his area prepare for the new EU pig welfare regulations which came into force in 2013.

He advises in the region of 40 farmers; a job he has been doing for over 30 years. Although his expertise lies in housing units, Niels Christian Dørken could be described as a mentor or a morale booster to a broad cross-section of Denmark’s pig producers. As such he has followed Denmark’s journey to 2013 at close hand and is in no doubt that all pig farmers are now fully compliant with the regulations. In his straightforward, no nonsense Jutlandian way, he says: “Loose housing for sows is now the law and we’re used to obeying the law in Denmark.”

He agrees, however, that in a few cases compliance was a close call. Denmark’s environmental regulations are among the strictest in the world and it can sometimes take more than two years to secure approval for any modification to existing systems. Danish banks have also been unwilling to extend the necessary funding, which means that compromises have had to be made.

With three decades of working with pig producers behind him, what is Niels Christian Dørken’s own view about the new legislation? “Loose housing forces producers to change the way they manage their sows and for some this has proved a challenge. Aggression is sometimes a problem if bigger sows are mixed with smaller sows, but there is no doubt that the sows benefit from loose housing systems. Their legs are stronger and, of course, the system offers a higher welfare standard.”

More control visits
The Danish veterinary authorities have implemented a programme of “unannounced visits” to pig producers to ensure that all welfare legislation is complied with. Indeed, the authorities have announced that they will increase the number of visits from 5% to 10%.

“The authorities are extremely strict in Denmark and you can rest assured that they will do what they say. I don’t think they will find any non-compliant farmers,” says Niels, "if only for the reason that it wouldn’t be fair on the farmers who have taken action and converted their systems – some at considerable cost.”

What happens in Germany, Denmark’s neighbour, will also have an impact on Danish pig production. Niels Christian Dørken hopes that German pig farmers are now fully compliant, but some German sow producers may switch to finishers and as a result he estimates that Germany could see a 10-15% decline in sow production. “This will offer opportunities for Danish farmers as there will be a lack of weaners in Germany. I know of many farmers in Denmark who – if the money were available – would like to switch to sow production because this emits less ammonia, takes up less space and generates less environmental impact overall.”

What does the future of Danish farming look like from the perspective of an expert who has experienced the fluctuations in the industry at first hand?

“Once pig farmers start making money again, the banks will have renewed confidence in the industry and be prepared to extend funding. If we are to be competitive on a global basis, we need to invest in our farms so that our technology and equipment are tip-top. Farms need to expand. Given that the local authorities are starting to show a little more flexibility to farmers in their area and given that our government is showing more open-mindedness towards the farming community, I would encourage young people to consider a future in pig farming.”

To read about the experiences of three Danish farmers on their journey to 2013-compliance, click on these three links…