Where pork meat comes from – Visiting a pig farm

Seeing where our food comes from is a great way to better understand our food, not just the science, but the whole supply chain that starts long before it comes in a factory, supermarket or on our plate. Seeing how animals live especially is something I’m interested in (although I also visited a tomato greenhouse, which was fascinating as well!), to understand how this is done in an efficient but always animal friendly manner.

There are several farms in the Netherlands that welcome visitors to come and have a look behind the scenes. So when I got the opportunity, I headed out to a pig farm. We saw cute little piggies and lazy sleepy large pigs.

I don’t have a full overview of pig production in the Netherlands. I haven’t seen that many farms, so I’ll just describe what I’ve seen. Maybe other farms work differently, but I was positively impressed by what I saw in the farm I visited.

Mother pigs

The mother pigs, that is the pigs which are kept to become pregnant and give birth to little piglets are kept in one large barn. It is a lot of fun to look at this barn (see photo on top of this post for an impression, as well as the one further below).

Pigs tend to split their living area in a place to eat and drink, a place to sleep and a place for excrements. The pigs we saw were lying in a large spacy barn with a lot of hay and the occasional mud pool (especially in the corners). On one side of the barn pigs were all lying down, close and cosy to each other, looking quite relaxed.

It’s here that the pregnant pigs live and they stay there until a few days before they give birth.

Piglets

Once the pigs have given birth they are placed in a special pin where the mother pig lies in a special arranged place, with not too much space. The piglets (often 10-12) run and play around the mother and drink milk a lot of the time.

After 4 weeks the pigs would leave their mother and go to another barn where they would stay for another six weeks. In this part of the barn the pigs have some more space again, they have a place to eat, sleep and poo. The pigs tend to walk around in the hay, or just sleep.

After these 4+6 weeks the pigs are old enough to go to another barn where they are kept until they are 5,5-6 months old. At this point they are ready for slaughter.

Pigs grow really fast, in their 6 month lives they tend to become more than 100kg, that is a lot of meat.

pigs in the barn close up relaxing
Pregnant pigs relaxing in the hay, sleeping close to one another. It’s full but they really seem to look for each other’s company and lie close together since there was plenty of empty space.

Where I went

The farm I visited is one that always welcomes people to come and have a look. Of course, no touching the animals (hygiene and disease prevention), but just looking through the glass. The pigs were held according to the Dutch ‘Better Living‘ standards and have 1 star, which means it’s no conventional farming, they have to fulfill certain criteria to make life for the pigs just a bit better and more relaxed.

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