Grow your own way: starting an organic farm-to-fork pig business

Stepping away from common practice and sticking by your values to start your own business can be a daunting prospect. The Pig Site speaks to one pig farmer who has done exactly that.

Michiel Nooijen has been involved in pig farming, in one way or another, since he left school as a teenager. Growing up with his dad’s 350-sow farm in the Netherlands, working at an AI station in Canada for a year, and subsequently returning to take over his dad’s herd, Michiel came to the conclusion that he wanted to raise pigs a certain way and his current enterprise was not allowing him to do so.

He was taking care of 400 sows that were farrowing in crates, in a building that was between 30 and 40 years old. He concluded that this was not a sustainable production system, nor was he happy farming this way.

Michiel approached the government and the farm was bought out, allowing him to investigate his options for starting a brand-new pig production business. He analysed the costs of installing new barns, establishing a farrow-to-finish system and housing 600 sows on straw, then took his plans to the bank. He was met with a disappointing response: run with 1200 sows or no loan. So, in Michiel’s words, “I made up my mind at that point that I was going to do it my way or not at all.”

After a brief period of running a 50-sow farrow-to-finish farm in 2011, halted by issues in his personal life, Michiel had to re-evaluate his plans and ambitions for his organic pig farm concept. It wasn’t until seven years later when he managed to get back onto the farm that his hard work began to pay off.
Now Michiel single-handedly runs a 200-head, certified organic finisher unit. Plans to increase to 400 finishers means it’s a case of building on the strong foundations upon which his business proudly stands.