I’ve never really enjoyed getting up close and personal with farm animals. My memories of childhood visits to farms and wildlife parks are mainly a mixture of images of dirt and mud, unpleasant odours and being in a constant state of fear of the potential volatile outburst of a cranky chook or a moody emu. But there was something that intrigued me about the Landgoed Altembrouck Hotel concept that featured its very own stables that supply the produce for its restaurants. I was especailly excited about the prospect of meeting my first mangalica pigs, the wagyu of the pork world. Characterised by its curly blond coat, the mangalica is a hungarian breed of pig that in the 1970s was on the verge of extinction. Through an arrangement with the Hungarian government, the Altembrouck estate exchanged one of its full-blood wagyu bulls for a mangalica to start breeding its own pure mangalica pigs.
An integral part of the hotel estate, the stables are readily accesible to hotel guests, with guided tours available on request for groups. Although we didn’t qualify for a guided tour, we were keen to take a peek at the wagyu and mangalica and presented ourselves at reception immediately after check in to find out where we should start. To our surprise and great delight, our host Olaf dropped what he was doing at the reception desk and offered to give us a personalised tour. Immpecably dressed with a dandy-like air, Olaf surprised me with his lack of concern for getting mud on his smart polished shoes.
He nonchalantly walked through the muddy path to the first wagyu stables and confidently approached the large black cows which he patted and spoke to as though they were family. His love for the animals was further apparent when we reached the mangalica stables – the little curly-haired piglets seemed to recognise his voice, drawing closer to us as he spoke. The larger pigs too seemed at ease in his presence (a fact that was further amplified when we later ventured to the stables on our own only to be greeted by frantic rustling in the hay and angry grunts). Olaf spoke of the animals and of the estate with a passion and tenderness I’ve rarely seen in someone talking out their job. The other staff we encountered throughout the tour, from the stablehands, farmhands, horse groomers and gardeners, all seemed to really love their work too. Even the animals seemed perfectly content and were obviously very well cared for. Greeted by friendly faces, it didn’t feel like we were passing hotel guests at all. The team at the Altembrouck estate made us feel so welcome, and very much at home.
Just a few steps away from the main hotel building and past the entrance courtyard we entered a large shed that housed the black wagyu cows. They were the biggest cows I’d ever seen and looked very relaxed munching on hay that was scattered on the floor. Olaf explained to us that they were too big to be out in the pasture so they were going to be kept inside until it was time for thier date with the butcher.
We then made our way to the main complex where the mangalica pigs were housed. Olaf yelled out and said hello to the pigs and they seemed to say hello back to him. They came close to the front of the pens and were trying to suss out who we were, one of them even stood up on it’s hind legs to get a better look at us. The pigs were covered in beautiful curly hair. I couldn’t help myself and patted one of the pigs that came up to say hello, and was surprised to find that the hair felt like fishing line. As the pigs started to get restless we left to see the baby mangalicas in the pens next door.
The first time I saw the baby pigs my heart melted. Once you see them in the flesh it’s hard not to fall in love with them, they are the cutest baby animals I’ve ever seen. When I stuck my head over the pen they all came running to the front, as if to say hello to me. Olaf explained that the pigs are very smart and that their leader (Kees, the dominant male of the group) had even figured out how to open his pig pen and could often be found wondering around the farm. Olaf took me to meet Kees who was kept on the other side of the property. After walking through a field of mud we found him relaxing next to his female companion. Kees was magnificent. He was much bigger than the other pigs and probably weighed over 100 kilos.
It was such a pleasure to see behind the scenes of a working farm. The care and attention the animals received was wonderful to see. I got the sense that they were really happy to be at this farm with their friends, both the furry and the human kind.
Landgoed Hotel Altembrouck
Altenbroek 4, 3798 ‘s Gravenvoeren