Antibiotic Free Pork - Catching on in Denmark

DENMARK - More and more people are getting alarmed that many infections are not responding to antibiotics. There is a shortage of new antibiotics and many people are also concerned that too many antibiotics are used in pig production. Consequently many nations are cutting back on antibiotic consumption and Denmark is one of the countries leading the way in terms of reducing the amount of antibiotics it uses in its pig industry, writes Stuart Lumb.
calendar icon 15 February 2017
clock icon 6 minute read

Rules about withdrawal periods have to be strictly observed hence traditionally reared pigs do not contain any antibiotics at slaughter. There is an argument put forward that selling/marketing “Antibiotic Free Pork” infers that traditionally reared pigs contain antibiotics, which is patently not the case.

Having said that, Danish Crown surveys indicated that there is a demand for Antibiotic Free Pork.

Consequently, in 2015 a trial was set up on 2 farms on the island of Bornholm and in 2016 the concept was refined and extended to farms in Jutland.

One of the Bornholm farmers, Stine Mikkelsen, is also a nurse and this issue has great significance to her as she looks after patients who are sadly proving to being immune to antibiotics.

Stine Mikkelsen and Nicolai Weber have a 500 sow unit, which is SPF but not totally clean. They work a 14 day batch system (previously sows were weaned weekly), sell pigs at 30kg, are 100 per cent AI and mix their own feed. Crucially, no blood products are allowed in the feed.


Pigs have to be kept antibiotic free from birth to slaughter, although Coccidiosis treatment is allowed.

Sows may be treated during lactation and zinc oxide is permitted in the weaner feed.

Piglets are tagged, for ID purposes, with the tag being removed in the event of antibiotic treatment.

Annual Danish control is with OUA (pigs reared without antibiotics) plus Danish Crown gives advice as and when necessary.


Gestating sows are kept in 6 fixed groups, fed via ESFs. The farrowing section has 3 rooms of 42 pens plus a 14 pen buffer unit, whilst weaners are kept in smallish groups with kennelled covers and part slatted flooring.


Respiratory problems occur at day one and various treatments have been used. In addition, copious amounts of straw are used in the farrowing pens and pens are disinfected with lime. After weaning, feed gets changed from “muesli” to wet feed. This leads to outbreaks of diarrhoea.


With antibiotic free production extra vaccinations are needed:

Young females – vaccinated against Mycoplasma & PCV 2, whilst gilts get vaccinated against glassers disease, mycoplasma and influenza. Sows received a flu jab and piglets are vaccinated against lawsonia.


This is found in large pigs that over eat and in small pigs that eat too little. Lawsonia – like diarrhoea started at 20kg.


Larger pigs were restricted regarding feed, small pigs got pampered, pigs received a Lawsonia vaccination plus an analgesic was given in the water. In addition, trials were carried out with probiotics, activated charcoal and acids.

Husbandry had to change from group care to individual care. With antibiotic free production there are more demands on the staff as the antibiotics crutch is not available.

Respiratory Infections

Vulnerable pigs had to be given antibiotics and had their antibiotic free status revoked, i.e the pig’s ID tag was removed.

Mycoplasma vaccinations were given in the farrowing unit, plus keeping the farrowing stables as dry and as warm as possible boosted weaning weights.

Post Weaning Performance

From 2014 to June 2016, feed conversion actually improved plus feed intake dropped.


Now hygiene has been made a very big priority and employees are constantly reminded about this. Hence separate boots and brushes for each section. Injections are kept to a minimum (as this is a potential route for infection), with the youngest pigs being treated first and sick litters last.

Antibiotic Use

Piglets: Down by 58 per cent, Finishers by 84 per cent


Medicine costs were higher in the first year, neutral in 2016.

Ear tags 24p per pig – £3480
Equipment £380
Increased working hours – 7hrs/week – £8760
LOSS of 2-2.5pigs/ sow/year


Each tagged pig sold (untreated with drugs) was worth an extra £11.20, with the percentage of tagged pigs showing a pleasing increase (April 2016 – 45 per cent, up to 60 per cent by the end of September 2016).

Key Bullet Points – to Rear ABF Pigs

Reasonable health status with strict sectioning of the farm is necessary. Speedy identification of problems is essential along with speedy action when the problem has been identified, plus it’s essential to have heavy strong pigs at weaning.

Finally, having dedicated committed owners and staff is vital - helped by the right advisers, together with on-going initiatives from Danish Crown.

As of October 2016, Danish Crown has 23 farms producing 3000-4000 antibiotic free finishers per week.

Significantly, 60-80 per cent of the production has not been treated with antibiotics. In addition, Danish Crown has 100 farms on a waiting list, eager to start producing antibiotic free pigs.

Danish slaughter company Tikan processes pigs in Jutland and that company is also looking at sourcing antibiotic free pigs from some of their producers early in 2017, but this has yet to be confirmed.

BILKA is the only company in Denmark with hypermarkets. In their stores organic pork is selling at £8/kg whereas antibiotic free pork costs £12/kg. This is not cheap – so consumers who prefer to buy it tend to buy lighter cuts. There is interest in antibiotic free pork in the USA and Canada. However, talking recently to a UK supermarket agricultural specialist, he didn't think it would catch on in the UK.


The fact that consumers will pay over the odds for antibiotic free pork sends a message out that the pig industry has been found wanting with regard to banging home the message to consumers that traditionally produced pork does not contain antibiotic residues.

Going forward, the pig industry must re-double its efforts to remind and educate consumers that traditional pork is antibiotic free, which of course it is...

The concept of antibiotic free pig production might be frowned upon in certain quarters; however these producers are showing that high percentages of pigs can be produced without antibiotic treatment and significantly the techniques and husbandry involved are a template that can be passed on to other producers. The net result being an overall reduction in the amount of antibiotics given to pigs, which has to be a great thing in the long term.

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