De Varkenshoff: experimental shelter for princes and princesses

There is universal appreciation for the experimental greenhouse of the Noordman family. Dangerous sows, lactating sows, piglets and fattening pigs, all stages of a pig are under one roof. Visitors bring in money; meat sales are (yet) not enough.

The farm of the Noordman family in Overijssel Lemelerveld is buzzing with action. A truck supplies materials for the new barn to be built. Herbert Noordman drives it to the desired location with the shovel. Niels Noordman is in consultation on the construction site and Annemarie Noordman is tearing down the garden because many visitors are expected. De Varkenshoff is one of the three companies in the day trip ‘De boer op’ by the magazine Noaber.

Annemarie Noordman is active when it comes to the farmer-citizen connection. The experimental stable Varkenshoff plays an important role here. Last year during the lockdown, we were one of the few excursions that were open. I ask for money for a visit and a big hug. But in fact, there are always interesting conversations about what and why it is to keep pigs and the role of meat in our diet. ‘

Natural ventilation

Varkenshoff was commissioned five years ago. An 18 meter wide, 47 meter long and 7 meter high greenhouse with a transparent roof and natural ventilation. The stable is decorated according to an idea by Jan Pape. He is also the spiritual father of the cow garden.

We need to spread more knowledge about what healthy food is and what role animal proteins have in it

Annemarie Noordman, pig farmer

Five large plant boxes divide the barn into four segments. Under one roof there is room for pregnant sows, rushing sows, piglets and fattening pigs. The greenery in the containers had a dual function: it is edible and the plants keep the air clean.

What looked fresh and green in the plant boxes at the beginning of the barn now looks somewhat deserted. ‘The idea was beautiful,’ says Annemarie Noordman. “But the straw and sawdust in the barn create a lot of dust and the trees and plants can’t stand it. We keep looking for a solution. ‘

stole to tell

For Noordman, Varkenshoff corresponds to the ideal of the past. ‘It’s a barn from which I can tell the story of pig breeding.’ The most diverse groups know how to find their way to the company. Also fellow pig farmers. Although they were initially criticized. Afraid as they were that Varkenshoff would become the norm for the future.

‘Well, it will not be,’ says Annemarie Noordman in her characteristic direct way of communicating. She does not go around the good and bad sides of keeping pigs. Because Varkenshoff was a new concept, Wageningen University & Research researched there. It is now complete and it has provided new insight.

Ten steps and pee

For example, a sow takes a maximum of ten steps, and then she pops or pees. ‘If you want to control the manure behavior, then there must be a pig toilet within that radius of action.’

At Varkenshoff, about three lakes give birth simultaneously. Their piglets stay together all their lives. ‘I can see that the behavior of the lakes is much more competitive.’ As an example, Noordman mentions a young sow who thought she was in charge. Her peers tolerated it for two days, then it went wrong.

‘Everyone always thinks it’s great that the animals are lying in the straw, but if it gets a little too hot, then they are lying on the slats.’ Conversely, Noordman calls the barn too cold in the winter months. When asked if this is really the case because the past winters were not so cold, or if it may be the human perception, the answer is: ‘In this barn, I really make my animals too short in the winter.’

In winter, Noordman uses fabric to make tents for the piglets to maintain a better temperature. © Frank Uijlenbroek

‘To be good to your animals is to take care of people. Food, drink, a nice place to sleep. Pig breeders are thus taught to keep piglets alive. ‘ So last winter, Noordman made plastic tents over the paths for the weaned piglets, thus creating a more pleasant microclimate for the ‘princes and princesses’. This is what the pig farmer affectionately refers to as the colorful spectacle that populates the barn and that gets a lot of attention.

To get pigs that are more resistant to the agricultural conditions in Varkenshoff, animals are bred with a little more bacon on the ribs and piglets that are not too big. “We can not make foster mothers.”

Piglets call the mother

The danger lakes each have their own nursery in the large group path. A wooden edge keeps piglets in the nest for the first few days. ‘If you put a piglet over, it will call. The mother responds and then you have disturbed two nests. A piglet must spend two days getting to know its mother ‘, explains the pig breeder.

‘I really had to learn to see the behavior of my animals in this barn. I worked for years in nursing with people with disabilities. Reading signals, that’s where my heart lies. ‘

Share more innovations

The new barn gave her great insight, Noordman says. She would have liked to have shared it with entrepreneurs working on similar initiatives as Varkenshoff. ZonVarken in De Heurne is mentioned as an example.

The fact that companies with experimental concepts are not brought into closer contact with each other calls the entrepreneur a missed opportunity. If that were the case, one plus one could turn into three. ‘There are opportunities now.’

Sell ​​your own meat

Noordman has been marketing the pork from de Varkenshoff himself for about three years now. It adds a whole new dimension to pig breeding. “I never understood that you could make so many different products from pigs. A world opened up to me. I understand better and better how valorization works. ‘

Near the entrance to the visiting room there are two large freezers and a freezer. The meat is sold in packages. ‘The whole world is calling for the scale of livestock farming to change. We do, but it is not noticeable in the sale of our meat, “it says in the comment. A marketing company was even hired to increase the visibility of the Varkenshoff meats.

The Noordman family sells meat from its own pigs.
The Noordman family sells meat from its own pigs. © Frank Uijlenbroek

The meat sale is mainly an activity of the sons Bart and Niels. They invest a lot of time and energy and put online sales through a sales organization on track. ‘I had stopped a long time ago,’ says Annemarie Noordman. The disadvantage is that meat sales have increased the awareness that good and safe food is made in the Netherlands.

Noordman says – not alone – that the average Dutchman has lost the sense of food. Why not buy washed potatoes and carrots or how to bake a schnitzel. “In the past, food was important, but now it is a key element in many households. We need to spread much more primary knowledge about what healthy food is and what role animal proteins play in it. ‘

When Noordman sees an opportunity, she will not let it pass. Whether it is with visitors to Varkenshoff or with students who come to the company. ‘I tell them the whole story. From de Varkenshoff, but also from our finisher company Veldhoek Porc. Every animal has the right to a good life. No matter what farm. ‘


Herbert and Annemarie Noordman have four children. The son Niels takes over the company. A next generation that puts its weight behind it brings change with it. The construction activities on the property are also connected with this.

At the site where the concrete has now been poured, a greenhouse with 3,000 spaces will be built. The existing barns for the slaughter pigs are also greenhouses and the family experiences lots of light inside as positive for the animals and it works well.

With new construction, space is made for the company's successor Niels Noordman.
With new construction, space is made for the company’s successor Niels Noordman. © Photography Frank Uijlenbroek

There are plans to close the business again. ‘Niels wants to take over the company, but also makes it clear that he wants to do things differently than Herbert and I. Working at your company 24 hours a day, seven days a week is obsolete. Our children are proud of what it says, but they have also learned their lessons from it. ‘

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