Join me as I traverse the countryside through various farms and experience some of my adventures during a wintry January trip to the land of the Vikings.
The plane landed at Billund Airport, 250 km southwest of Copenhagen, Denmark, on January 22, 2013, at 11.20am.
As I made my way through the gangway to the luggage section, and on to the arrivals’ lounge, I wondered just how cold it was outside. Aboard the plane, I had seen blankets of snow everywhere – on the ground, on rooftops, and on trees.
I was met by a cheerful Juan, who had been sent to pick me up. As soon as I stepped outside the building, I was hit by a gust of cold air and felt as though I would lose my breath. It was so cold and heavy that I had to momentarily cover my nose.
It was the first time I had ever seen real snow. Yes, it’s true; I have occasionally travelled out of my ‘Forever-Summer’ country, but never during winter.
The questions on my mind as I entered the vehicle were on the kind of livestock fair and exhibition I would be attending in such freezing temperatures.
“Were all the animals housed in a heated enclosure?” I wondered, thinking about the Brookside Livestock Breeders’ Show and ASK shows back home, where the best breeds and healthy animals are often paraded and judged at the Jamhuri Showground in Nairobi.
I would discover, as we made our way to the exhibition – but not before Juan took me to buy boots. I had realized that I would need very warm boots before getting onto the plane at the JKIA. But had reasoned I would buy a pair at some point on arrival in Denmark. But now, I had to get them immediately, or my feet in my light shoes would turn into ice blocks.
The country of milk, cheese and pork
Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries with a population of about 5.5 million. Its total land area is 16,639 square miles, about 13.5 times smaller than Kenya’s 224,081 sq miles. A country that we literally drove through from one end to the other during my seven-day visit.
I had been invited by J.N Jorenku. The company that manufactures Staldren (a product for animal hygiene and health safety) to attend the NutriFair 2013. A specialised agricultural trade fair for suppliers and manufacturers of solutions for feed, animal welfare and indoor mechanisation in livestock production, which was held at Fredericia, near Billund.
It was also an opportunity to see why this small country is famed for its agriculture, especially its livestock industry. And my host Jens Rasmussen ensured that I learnt as much as I could in that short time.
That Denmark is truly a farming country is evident even near the cities. Of the 16,639 sq miles, mostly flatland, about 60 per cent is used for agriculture. In the 1930s, some 76 per cent of the country was under cultivation.
The country produces enough food to feed 15 million people, or three times its population. The agricultural sector has been THE AGRI-TOURIST Smart Farmer on tour in Denmark. Join me as I traverse the countryside through various farms and experience some of my adventures during a wintry January trip to the land of the Vikings successful due to its efficiency and high knowledge base. It is highly mechanised, with great advances in technology and infrastructure.
At the Nutrifair
We arrived at the Nutrifair shortly after 3pm after I had passed through the farmhouse we would be staying in for a couple of days, to freshen-up. My new pair of boots fitted just fine. No more worries of frostbite!
At Nutrifair I met Mr Johnni Pedersen, the managing director, Jens and their team, a very interesting mix of people.
Early this year, Denmark was ranked the world’s second happiest country by the Londonbased Legatum Institute. I found the people I met very warm and fun to be with.
The trade fair, which in 2012 started with 152 exhibitors and received 5,695 visitors from various countries in Europe, did not have live animals. It instead showcased technological advancements and everything related to indoor mechanisation.
There was an array of the latest livestock feed solutions, health and veterinary products, pig pens and metal stables, special housing for calves, feeding machines, feeders for the animals and cleaning robots.
In Denmark, most farms are mechanised. In a pig farm I visited, which has 1,000 breeding sows, there were only three employees. In Denmark, many functions on the farm are computerised. There are machines that feed the animals at set times, with different ratios for each animal. Robots clean the stables and pens while all livestock must have tags on both ears, with one being electronic.
At the J.N. Jorenku stand was their flagship brand Staldren, a pinkish powdery substance with a pleasant smell. Staldren is a dry compound for disinfecting domestic livestock and poultry.
According to the company, it has a 99 per cent killing rate of disease causing microbes like Ecoli, salmonella, camphylobactor and streptococcus, and fungi.
“It also checks mastitis and diarrhoea, binds ammonia thus killing the bad odours, absorbs damp and moisture, and is therefore useful in stalls with high humidity,” Mr Rassmusen said.
At Nutrifair there were toys for pigs. Toys? I wondered. “Yes, this is one of the requirements, according to Danish animal welfare regulations,” a retailer said. The plastic or wooden toys or sisal rope, give the pigs something to chew on, instead of biting one another’s tails or fighting and getting hurt.
Another interesting product is the cow brush. According to ComfyCow, a firm, which was showcasing the product, cow brushes bring comfort, hygiene and peace, and contribute significantly to a happy and healthy livestock. “The skin’s blood flow is stimulated and so the cows get a healthier and shinier skin. Research shows that the use of cow brushes increases milk production by 1litre per cow, per day and cows are less affected by mastitis,” the company says in a brochure.
According to the organisers, the majority of visitors to the fair are keen buyers with money to spend. In 2012, four out of five (82 per cent) were people able to make purchases on their companies’ behalf.
The rabbit farm
On our way to Naestved, we passed by a rabbit farm. Well not really, because Mr Preben Toftemark does not raise them for food or commerce. His is a hobby. Mr Toftemark, a veterinarian loves rabbits. He often does consultancy services for Farmers Choice in Kenya and has often won many competitions in his country for his huge and healthy animals.
A big fan of this magazine, he says there are no secrets about his rabbit breed, only common sense. Smart Farmer magazine hopes to soon run a column by Mr Toftemark on raising rabbits. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
At the pig farm
Away from the exhibition and rabbit farm, we visited a pig farm.
But first, from the splendid array of pork products appearing on my table every breakfast, I could see that this is a special industry. Even for dinner, our chef Mogens Kurer could not help including a dish of tastefully prepared pork every day.
The pig industry is for years a major source of income for Denmark, which is among the world’s largest exporters. About 90 % of its products are exported to 140 countries.
According to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, pork exports account for almost half of all agricultural exports and 5 % of Denmark’s total exports. With about 5,000 pig farms, Danish farmers produce 28 million pigs annually, which are slaughtered, processed and exported.
Together with my Ugandan counterpart, Ms Lydia Oile, we had to remove our clothes and shoes and change into disposable overalls and gumboots before entering the piggery. This was to prevent any contamination of the animals. No food is allowed in.
In Kenya, many farmers feed their pigs on food remnants or the animals forage in dumpsites. Danish regulations on animal welfare are strict and include rules on the type of housing and flooring. It is also mandatory to provide showers for pigs and provide them with toys.
At the farm, the 1,000 sows and piglets are housed in a large barn divided into a number of rooms. During winter, the stables are heated, making the venture a very expensive enterprise. “We make all the food ourselves to ensure that the animals get the quality and quantity the correct rations. We mix wheat, barley, soymeal, sunflower meal and some minerals,” said Mr Hasse Bergkranz. He has 400 acres of land mostly dedicated to growing feed grain and fodder for his pigs.
All over Denmark, there is plenty of mechanisation of dairy farms, with robots for cleaning stables, milking machines and feeders. On Mr Joergen’s and Mrs Kirsten Kappel’s farm, the calves were dressed up to beat the harsh winter cold. The Kappels have 120 cows which produce 9,000 litres of milk a year each. The dairy farm, with only two employees, gets an average of 3,000 litres.
Milk production is limited by EU regulations and amounts to 4.7 billion kilos per annum, being processed by dairy group Arla Foods and 30 smaller dairy companies. The value of all dairy exports is 1.8 billion euros (Sh198) billion annually.
Visit to a mink farm
Bedecking yourself in a mink coat may never have crossed your mind, or if it did, may not have mattered much because it may be out reach. But, if you really do have a mink coat, then you must be the envy of many (who know its true value) because from the start to the finish, mink coats cost a bomb! They are an expensive item of clothing, and a high fashion statement best illustrated by the models that strut the catwalks in Paris, London, Milan and New York. If you are ready to fork out Sh1 million or more, welcome to the club.
But why does a coat or mink item cost so much? It starts right from the farm and the efforts that go into breeding the animals. Minks are small rodent-like animals with a long and supple body, short legs, short erect ears and a tail that is long in comparison to the body. The male is about 45 centimetres long, with a tail that is 20 centimetres long. The female is slightly smaller.
It is from these animals bred on farms in Denmark and other European and US farms that this very expensive fur comes. According to Mrs Ann Mona Larsen of the mink farm we visited, it takes about 40 mink skins to make one coat. One costs 600 Danish Kroners (Sh10,000) or more depending on demand and auction prices. Factor in transportation, processing and design into garments, and you will understand the high price.
According to a booklet by Copenhagen Fur, an auction house and international trademark for the finest mink skins, Denmark is the largest producer of high quality mink skins worldwide, with about 1,500 mink farms. It is a huge foreign exchange earner.
Source: Smart Farmer Magazine, issue 14 in April-May 2013, page 50-52