Today, by appointment, we visited the export assembly center Van den Boogaart in Veghel. About 80 sows and several hundred piglets were gathered by PALI Group.
The moving and loading of the sows went very well. The sows were not chased but were given the time to walk. In the raceway there were woodchips for a non-skid effect, and to reduce sharp colour contrasts on the floor. The movement was done in relatively small groups (10-12 sows). Employees made good use of the natural behavior of pigs, did not walk against the natural flow, made little noise and were patient. The loading dock was well lit and adjustable in height. The sows walked in easily. A few of the sows were anxious when walking up the loading ramp, but the workers remained very calm. We want to extend our compliments for the workers professional manner whilst handling, moving and unloading.
We did have our concerns about the condition of the pigs. A small number of sows were emaciated and all came from one farm. They were eating the wood-chips off the floor and one sow was biting the water bowl out of frustration– most likely signs of hunger-. Also, several sows had pressure sores on their shoulders. The piglets mainly had umbilical hernias. Piglets generally don’t experience discomfort from umbilical hernias. But two of the piglets had extremely large hernias, one of which was also infected. The manager told us that because of this the piglets would be euthanized. We also saw hierarchy fights this was due to pigs from different farms being placed together in one pen. These hierarchy fights create a lot of stress as the sows that get bitten cannot get away. Our advice is to place separation boards in the pen so that sows who are attacked can hide and create more space, and use masking sprays and good distraction materials such as rope, AllBite blocks and a little bit of tasty food (CCM). Van den Boogaart has already assured us they will look into distraction materials and masking sprays.
The sows were going to a slaughterhouse in Germany, so there were two NVWA inspectors present to assess the sows for export. All the sows were approved. The piglets did not have to be approved as they were going to a Dutch slaughterhouse. An NVWA is present at the slaughter house.
Since the 1st of August 2021 the fitness of pigs inspections for export are more stringent as the NVWA (Dutch authority) is now using the new EU guidelines. Van den Boogaart rightfully mentioned that one of the new requirements, to separately transport pigs with an umbilical hernia larger than 15-20cm- is not practically possible. From an animal welfare standpoint, separating and transporting these pigs individually is also not desirable. We feel it would be better to transport these piglets in small groups (max 10 piglets) with extra space and sawdust, to the nearest slaughterhouse.
We are also of the opinion that the NVWA inspectors, in the case of the severely emaciated sows, should have made an internal report for a visit to the originating company. As far as we are concerned the assembly center is an important place to notice and act on signals of irregularities. At this originating company for example, there could be a situation of neglect, perhaps there are serious management issues and/or the pig farmer may be in trouble.
We want to thank Van den Boogaart for their invitation and transparency. We are delighted that they will start working to follow up on some of our advice.