Summary – excursion to Akkervarkens farm
Summary – excursion to Akkervarkensarm
On 26th January, Boerengroep organized an excursion to the farm Akkervarkens (Field pigs in English) in Walthermond in Drenthe region, for a group of 11 people. The goal was to visit a pig farm with an innovative, more animal- and environmental-friendly way of raising pigs.
Akkervarkens farm is, to say the least, special. Willem and Claudia, the farmers, wanted their pigs to be raised in their natural habitats, so that they could perform their natural behavior. They have 250 pigs that live outside all year round. They live in and feed on neighboring forest areas, and on other farmers’ arable fields where they dig out weeds or the remains of a harvest (like potatoes). This way, new open spaces are created in forests and the fields are cleaned without machines, which leaves more space to soil life. Every day, pigs get additional feed that is locally sourced (such as cereals and beets), to ensure that they remain healthy and so they keep coming to the farmers.
The entire life cycle of the pigs is managed by the farmers, from birth to slaughter. The sows give birth in the farrowing pen on-farm, where they have space to make their own nest made of straw. Some extra space close to the walls is made especially for piglets, to prevent them from being crushed by their mother. Piglets stay with their mother for 8 to 10 weeks (instead of 4 weeks in conventional farms), before they are placed together by age so they learn to get used to life outside and within a group.
The farm raises 3 different breeds (Berkshire, Duroc and Husumer) that are known for being robust and curious, perfect for living outside. Husumer is especially a rare breed that the farmers want to save from extinction. Pigs are raised until more or less 1.5 years old (instead of 6-7 months in conventional farms). The farmers bring the animals to the slaughterhouse themselves to ensure minimum stress. The meat is sold on-farm. It has extra tenderness and juiciness thanks to the special breeds. The meat is not organic but it is free of antibiotics and of conservatives.
Akkervarkens farm is multifunctional and locally rooted. The pigs are used as landscape managers, as they clean fields and forests. Also, because the pigs dig weeds with their roots, the farm works hand-in-hand with the municipality to control invasive exotics, such as the Japanese Knotweed (Japanse duizendknoop in Nederlands). Farmers offer farm visits all year round, and people can pass by freely to say hi to the pigs, some of them give the pigs their leftovers. The farmers also organize activities for children: they have an indoor playground for children parties (including farm animals) and they organize each year an acorn collection campaign: together with local residents and sport clubs they go and pick up (up to 6000kg) acorns, as treats for the pigs.
Getting a 2-hour tour at the Akkervarkens farm is quite an experience. It is especially delightful to help the farmer go feed the pigs, and to see hundreds of them happily running to us from a distance in the field. It is inspiring to get to know about an economically successful farm that raises pigs according to their natural behavior, allowing them to live outside under the trees, dig out their food and to chill in the mud.