Text: Eva Breukink
Photography: Studiorootz | Berber van Beek
Just outside Barber, behind the house where he grew up, Avienne de Aquino (1989) has a pig farm. he started here in 2007, conservatively with about fifteen pigs. Then eighteen years old, Avienne earned his keep through working jobs in the hospitality industry and later on as an electrician and firefighter at the refinery. He never lost sight of what he really wants though: a farm of his own. Now fifteen years later, M.J. Farm has room for 400 pigs. A real family business. “M” and “J” are the initials of his children.
I built the farm my own way.
Avienne is a descendant from a Curaçaoan farming family. As a young lad, he walked the same fields among his parents’ goats and sheep. Grandpa and Grandma had chickens and pigs also. In the De Aquino family all this knowledge and experience is passed on from generation to generation. This formed his basis. There is no agricultural training on Curaçao, so Avienne did his own research online, read books, and got in touch with farms and food producers abroad. He schools himself, and so M.J. Farm slowly but surely takes shape. Pig farming is the first step. Avienne is working towards a mixed organic farm. A farm with pigs, broiler chicken, and sheep. A business that produces its own food for the animals, which reuses waste where possible, and which has sufficient space for all the animals. M.J. Farm stands for high quality fresh meat.
“In the morning I first check if everything is okay with the animals, that the yard is in order, and then I clean the stables and pens. It is important that everything is properly closed off and that the animals are safe. The animals get their food in the morning. We check if something is broken, and we fix it. After which we take care of the vegetables on the land. I take a break between twelve and four. Then the same routine again: cleaning the stables, making feed, distributing feed, maintenance, planting. Another break in the evening from eight to ten, and then to Bándariba to do a round of the hotels and restaurants to collect leftovers. At midnight I drive back to Barber. Yes, this carries on like that every day, seven days a week.”
Those are the ‘quiet days’. Because five days a week, Avienne is also scheduled as a firefighter at the refinery for an eight-hour shift: from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. He then collects the leftovers either before his shift starts or just after it.
Good food, enough space for the animals.
“How do I keep it up? I am an incredible go-getter! That put me where I am today. I had always wanted to run my own business with animals. It won’t be long before I can afford to quit working at the refinery. Here on the farm, there will be a restaurant and our products will soon be for sale. We also organize events. All in all, that should bring in enough money.”
“Pig farmer. That’s my life. I do it with a lot of love. Early in the morning I arrive at the farm and from the moment I get here, I really don’t want to leave. The vibe, I love it. I am happy, here with my pigs. When I see that the animals are healthy, I already feel good. I always try to do something extra for them, so their life is as pleasant as possible. If you’re only in it for the money, you won’t last. It’s a big responsibility. You are always on your toes to keep things under control.”
*Duroc, Yorkshire and Dutch Landrace Pig
“For over twenty years I have been working with animals now. What you learn from others and read in books or on the internet is important, but ultimately you must do it yourself. I built my farm my own way. A good, safe yard is very important. In the past it would sometimes happen that a pig suffered a heart attack. Animals can dehydrate quickly in the bright sun. Now I provide enough shade and maintain a pleasant temperature.”
The philosophy of M.J. Farm is to produce little waste and to use local products as much as possible. The manure from the stables, mixed with water, provides extra nutrition to the soil of the field. Leaves and branches of the papaya and banana trees are used in the animal feed. Avienne chooses local crops that contain sufficient proteins and minerals, such as maize, soya and sorghum (maishi chikí). He turns it into a particularly nutritious and fiber-rich pork snack. There are two machines on site to chop the dried harvest into pieces. He lets the sawdust ferment for a while. This way more sugars are released.
Organic, as much as possible.
Various hotels and restaurants collect their food waste in barrels especially for the pig farm. Avienne transports this precious cargo in the back of his pick-up truck from Bándariba to Bándabou. Back on the farm he fishes out everything that is not edible. What remains, together with some concentrated feed, is mixed and ground to a pulp in a large mixer. A pig’s feast!
A pig is not a vegetarian, but an omnivore for sure. The leftover meat, collected from the restaurants and supermarkets requires special treatment. First it is stewed for four hours in a large homemade pot. The bacteria are killed this way. Then, when the meat is cooked, it is left to simmer on a high temperature for the rest of the day. The soup is complete with some freshly picked herbs, such as oregano and lime grass. Real ‘haute cuisine’ for the pig ladies and gents.
An adult pig eats five kilograms or more. “Actually, feeding a growing piglet is similar to a baby,” says Avienne. “Every two or three weeks you give it a little more food and water. I use a table as a starting point and check the quantities for each animal to see if it doesn’t get too much or too little.” Avienne uses what he has learned about pig nutrition and care but adapts his business to the circumstances in Curaçao. He discovered plants and herbs that can be used as natural medicine. For example, the fruit of the noni tree, sentebibu (aloe) and garlic.
After all these years, he serves as part-time doctor to his animals. Avienne knows when they need the right medicines, he gives injections, and he even sterilizes the females. He does it all himself. Three days after birth the piglets receive their first vaccination with iron and vitamins. He always keeps a close eye on the health of the pigs. The veterinary service checks the feces for parasites and worms. If necessary, an animal is given antibiotics, but where possible, a natural remedy is preferred.
My pigs hardly ever get sick.
Farmer Avienne de Aquino’s pigs are rarely sick. They live in spacious, super clean stables. These are cleaned twice a day and are partly open. There is a continuous supply of fresh air in the lofts. It therefore hardly stinks. At several times parties have even been organized around the stables. But strict rules apply. Avienne ensures that direct contact with the pigs remains limited. Just like that a dog, cat or a visitor can carry a bacteria or virus. A small parasite, carried on a flip flop, can already have fatal consequences. Before you know it, all pigs are infected. Consequently, prevention and hygiene have the highest priority.
The nine boars have only one task: to fertilize the fertile, rutting sows. These machos have names, such as Pancho, Pedro and Terorista. Born here, right on the farm, or bought on the island. Without their semen, production would come to a standstill. Depending on demand, about fifteen pigs are sent to the slaughterhouse in Parera each week. It ranges from suckling pigs of about ten kilos to adult animals of 115 kilos. A new, young population is therefore essential. The boars certainly do not have an easy life. Every week seven ladies come into “heat”. The boar is placed in the pen with the sow to mate with her. Fertilization occurs in a natural way.
Nine boars for reproduction.
There is a mud pool for the pregnant sows.
The pregnant sows are being pampered at M.J. Farm. Rightly so! Thanks to these ladies, the farm can continue to supply meat. They carry a new litter of twelve and sometimes even nineteen piglets. The pregnancy period lasts three months, three weeks and three days. During that period, the sows walk outside the pens in a special area at the back of the farm. There they can scurry around in the mud or splash around in the dedicated pool for moms. Some exercise keeps the ladies fit and prevents pelvic problems, for example. Three weeks before giving birth, the mother sow goes back into the pen in the stable. The piglets then stay with their mother for a few weeks.
The pigs grow up with good food, in a healthy environment with sufficient space. You can taste it. “The more organic products the animals receive, the better the quality of the meat,” Avienne knows from experience. The pigs have a relaxed and pleasant life on the farm. The optimal care continues until the last moment. Just before leaving for the slaughterhouse, they are washed briefly and then quietly walk onto the trailer. On the way, they look around curiously.
Good food, enough space for the animals.
At the abattoir, the animals receive an ear tag and some water from Avienne and his son. The meat of M.J. Farm goes directly from the abattoir to supermarket, hotel, or restaurant. He also sells assembled packages on order. Super fresh!
De Aquino wants to grow. He is in contact with a company in Europe about the purchase of a gas installation. Then he will be able to use the methane gas from the manure as an energy source. He pays for this investment from his own resources. There are special farrowing pens in the stables. He built these himself. It can sometimes happen that mother sows, easily weighing 180 kilos, accidentally overlie or trample a piglet. With a farrowing pen, the little ones are safe.
Avienne needs more space to grow anyway. That is why he is looking for a piece of farmland. Then he can build more stables on the land behind his parents’ house and carry out his plans for his restaurant and his own butcher shop. First, it is important that the pig breeding facility runs optimal and stable. Avienne de Aquino now does most of the work himself. Next, he would like to transfer the knowledge and experience he has to someone who has just as much love for the profession as he does. This person can then do the work in line with the philosophy of M.J. Farm. Step by step, he calmly proceeds to the ideal farm he envisioned all these years ago: a mixed, circular, and sustainable farm with pigs, sheep and broiler chickens.
If the animals are healthy, I already feel good.