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Thomas Oestergaard

From Viborg in Northern Jutland
500 sows (80 farrowing pens). Unit rebuilt in November 2012 for group housed sows. Liquid feeding in long trough. 4,500 finishers. Self-sufficient in feed.

“When I bought this farm in 2003, I knew that we had to make changes because of the age of the farm, its size and the legislation due to come into force in 2013. The bank endorsed our plans and we went ahead and, along with other investments, spent DKK 250,000 on consultancy services (around £ 27,000). But then came 2008 and the financial crash and the equity in our farm was halved. The bank decided not to advance any funding so we were left with a huge problem,” explains Thomas Østergaard, 38, who has a degree in Business Studies.

Although money was short, Mr Østergaard had no choice but to find a compromise solution to comply with 2013 legislation. With environmental approval secured in 2011, he moved his finishers to another farm, extended his farrowing unit to pay for the investment and converted to a standard loose-housing system. The changes cost him DKK 2 million (approx. GBP 220,000) and took nine months.

“Of course, loose housing units require a very different type of management. I have to say that I don’t understand all the thinking behind the regulations. I see why I needed bigger stalls, but I think that pregnant sows are happiest on their own, undisturbed, with plenty of straw and the right feed. With the new loose system, aggression between the sows and ensuring that the 15 sows I house together get an equal amount of feed are some of the main challenges. I’m learning every day, of course, and when I’m in a position to invest further I would like to buy an electronic feeding system and a system that allows a sow to enter and exit a box at her own volition so she can be on her own if she wishes.”

Asked whether he is aware of any farmers in Denmark who are not compliant, Thomas Østergaard says: “I am part of a buying group with 100 other farmers and all of them are 2013 compliant – as are all my neighbours. Some farmers have stopped because it’s been too hard on them economically. What we need now is to ensure that all countries compete on a level playing field. The biggest problem for us will be if “illegal” meat reaches the shops. That will undermine the situation for us.”