Kees Scheepens is a man pigs trust. He understands their body language and grunts and sometimes he eats from their trough. In the course of his career he has already seen some five million swine.
"Rupp Rupp," grunts the pig. The giant sow throws her head around. The animal looks angry, because Kees Scheepens is too close to the trough and has put some of the feed in his mouth.
"Rupp Rupp" is an alarm sound which means: "I'll tell you once, I'm telling you twice, but I'm telling you no third time."
Five million pigs
Scheepens is a "pig whisperer". In the past 26 years, the veterinarian has visited stables in every country of Europe, reading on behaviour whether animals are healthy. "I've seen five million pigs, but I’ll never get used to this smell."
The friendly Dutchman has the feed melting on his tongue. "A sort of soup with cereals and acids. It's good. Pigs are just as picky as humans. If the food is not okay, they leave it in the trough."
The man who is trusted by pigs is visiting a farm in Germany. The farmer worries. Too often he needs to help sows with giving birth. That is costly and takes a lot of work and time.
The barn is large, there are dozens of sows. The 53-year-old Scheepens leans on the gate and quietly observes animal by animal. He is looking for abnormalities, if the piglets pile up on each other. "Then they are too cold."
Floor heating should keep the right temperature for them, but the expert wants to be sure. Scheepens disappears from the house - and comes back with a disco smoke machine. Shortly thereafter, the head of the sow disappears in a cloud of dry ice.
The vet wants to make the course of the air currents visible in the stable. "I want to clarify whether the fresh air interferes with the micro-climate of the piglets."
It doesn’t, the fog is flowing to where it should - on the sow. The heated part of the floor stays warm for the piglets.
Stumbled on pigs
He coincidentally stumbled on the pig during his veterinary study, says Scheepens. Since graduating he has advised some 15,000 farmers. It's about how to keep animals in an appropriate manner. "With happy pigs you can earn more money." Unfortunately, with time many farmers suffer from operational blindness.
The pig whisperer intends to propose some improvements to the farmer "The question is always: What do I do from the existing situation?" His client should not tear down the barn and rebuild - but with a few modifications sometimes great things can be achieved.
Scheepens and his German colleague Ernst-Günther Hellwig, who organized the visit, have discovered something.
The pressure of fresh water supply for sows and piglets should be more. "None of the sows must be thirsty here," said Hellwig. "It is better if they drink more than they need. This means that more germs are flushed out with the urine." Then the problem with giving birth will probably decline.
Hellwig is a veterinarian and farmer and for many years runs his business with a holistic approach. His education material for veterinarians has elements of homeopathy.
Pig whisperer Scheepens says he has already seen a lot in barns in Europe. He has only one wish: that one day someone will offer the intelligent animals separate toilets for urine and faeces. Only by mixing the two does the pungent smell of ammonia arise. "So often in the shower I say to myself: Aaaah! That should not be."