Saturday, November 20, 2010

The World's Largest Pig Nipple: Adventures at Euro-Tier

So here it is - the world's largest pig nipple - it's actually not as gross as it sounds..... A pig nipple is just an attachment for the end of a water pipe to allow pigs to efficiently drink water - this is a ~5ft tall wooden replicate!

Yesterday I joined 140,000 fellow livestock farmers and specialists in attending "The World's Largest Event for Animal Agriculture", Euro-Tier, held at the expansive expo center in Hanover, Germany.

There were almost a dozen gigantic exhibit halls - each filled with hundreds of companies, from a total of 49 countries. While true "innovation" was harder to find than I would have hoped, there was a handful of exhibitors that really impressed me.

I was very intrigued by a modest booth with only a museum-quality skeleton of a
dairy cow on display. I approached the exhibitor, who explained to me that their booth was not a company, but rather a project of Prof. Dr. Martin Kaske of the Veterinary School at the University of Hanover. He was there to promote the latest research from their department - which documents the specific health problems we have created in certain cows by creating a "bigger is better" system of breeding. This project was promoting that cattle breeders work towards a significantly smaller cow size - pointing to impressive gains in profitability, not to mention animal welfare. I greatly appreciated this, after years of working with the "miniature" breed of irish dexter cows. In addition, through working with Dr. Elkins at the Buck Run Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, USA, I have become very much convinced that small to moderate sized cows (~1,000 lbs or 453 kg) are best for both people and animal.

Next I met a soft-spoken and intelligent Swedish fellow who was displaying a very clever feat of engineering. Yes.....another pig nipple - but this one is real and quite brilliant. By simply changing the location and shape of the 'button' the pig pushes to release the water - this new design has proven to reduce water waste by 40%!! This, and a few other swine-oriented exhibits, made me dearly miss my days of breeding pigs....

The last exhibitor I'll share really impressed me - for the shear
simplicity of the idea, and the very real impact it can have on animal welfare and farmer profitability. was described to me as "ebay for cows" by co-founder Godehard Gerling, a Bavarian from the information technology field with surprising insight into the realities facing cattle producers. The website is very simply, an on-line trading portal for regional trading of all matter of livestock. This in itself, may not sound like a big deal, but consider the alternatives. Livestock auctions, the traditional way to sell animals, creates insanely risky conditions for the spread of disease, undue animal stress, and low prices for farmers. Having a dedicated, professional forum for the direct farm-to-farm trade of livestock is a need I am sure will grow into the future.

At the end of the day I was astounded by the power of technology to shape our food system, but even more impressed by the role of human intent as a determining factor in the real impacts that these technologies will have. We can clearly do anything we desire- so let's make sure that we really do know what it is that we want!

Just to end on another crass note, here is an amazing taxidermy of a boar being collected for semen ;) I can't even tell you how many bizarre photos I could be posting from this event....

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