Antibiotics-free pork label sees Danes opt-in per piglet

An antibiotics-free pork-labelling initiative worth 20-25p/kg hinges on the eye of Danish pig keepers in the farrowing house.

The Danish Crown labelling scheme sees piglets tagged as antibiotic-free at the neonatal stage, with the tag removed at any point in the piglet’s life if treatment with antibiotics is deemed necessary.

And while early farm trials have shown a production drop of 2-2.5 piglet per sow a year, the premium covers additional costs if 35% or more piglets carry the tag to the slaughterhouse, farm trials show.

Danish pig

© Danish Agriculture and Food Council

See also: Stress makes pigs more susceptible to costly disease

In figures: Antibiotics-free pork

  • DKK2/kg premium: (25p/kg) = £11.25 per tagged pigged
  • Total added revenue: DKK884,430 (£106,978)
  • Minus neutral medicine cost in second year
  • Minus equipment: £362
  • Minus increased working = extra 7 hours/week at a cost of £8,830
  • Minus loss of 2-2.5 pigs a sow

Antibiotics-free tag allows:

  • Coccidia treatment
  • Sows treatment during nursing period
  • Zinc oxide in weaning feed

“I need to sell more than 30% of pigs with ear tags to break even after the extra work,” says Stine Mikkelsen, who is managing to sell more than 60% of her piglets under the new label from her 500-sow unit on the island of Bornholm.

A major review of hygiene and health on the Mikkelsen farm has been required to reduce antimicrobial use to boost revenue by £11.25 for every tagged pig sold.

And while production figures have decreased and there is an additional cost of labour, she says it “feels good” to farm in this way.

“I am a nurse and I have seen what resistant bacteria can do to people,” she explains.

“I am very motivated to do something about it – it’s a hard route to take, but I have a good feeling about this system.

“This is not a typical change in management, it requires extra focus every day.”

Production losses 2014 v 2016

  • Pre-weaning mortality – up from 8% to 13.5% then down to 11-12%
  • Weaned pigs per sow 33.2 down to 31.7
  • Piglet growth – loss of 100g/day from 535g/day down to 430g – recovered to 500g
  • Mortality – was at 2-2.5% which increased to 4% and now at 3% and falling
  • Feed efficiency – 1.8kg in 2014, dropping to 1.7 and now at 1.9kg and rising

The Mikkelsen’s farm suffered a huge hike in vaccination expenditure in 2014, but more recently this works as “cost neutral” against the decrease in antibiotics purchasing.

See also: How Devon pig farmer is saving £30,000/year by slashing antibiotics use

And while the unit only takes pigs to 30kg, only 5-7% of antibiotics-free tags are lost in the finishing period, she explains.

Betting on your piglet

Mrs Mikkelsen and her staff make a personal judgement about the viability of a piglet to prosper without antibiotics and the ability of a sow to rear successfully.

Generally, this sees a lower limit of a 900g piglets still being tagged if they’re healthy and have plenty of colostrum from a good sow, she explains.

“Weighing piglets and checking their behaviour is key to their success,” she says.

“Ideally, piglets around 1.1-1.2kg are big enough for me to have confidence and put the tag in.”

Extra vaccinations

Age group

Standard vaccinations

Extra vaccination owing to antibiotics-free production

Young female

  • Influenza
  • Glässers disease parvo virus
  • leptospirosis
  • Mycoplasma
  • Porcine circovirus type 2


  • Clostridia
  • E coli
  • Porcine circovirus type 2
  • Glässers
  • Mycoplasma
  • Influenza


  • Clostridia
  • E coli
  • Parvo virus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Influenza


  • Porcine circovirus type 2
  • Mycoplasma
  • Lawsonia