A first-generation farmer and Nuffield Scholar, Chris Fogden owns and manages 950 outdoor sows on 40ha of rented land within the rotation of a large Norfolk arable estate.
Every day at this time of the year starts with a quick look at the medium-range weather forecast, which is pretty accurate up to a fortnight away.
The main fear, of course, is prolonged frosty spells and the increased workload when days are short, people want days off and there is already a lot more bedding up to do. Our good fortune in the UK was highlighted to those of us from the Norfolk and Suffolk Pig Discussion groups, plus a few others to add strength, who went to Denmark in early December. Frosts had already set in every night and there will be little let up there until well into next March.
The main focus of our trip was the Agromek show at Herning, a mixed arable and livestock equipment show, all under cover – thank goodness. There were plenty of very expensive things on display, some not yet available in the UK. I managed to miss some of the better ones, including a novel way of finishing pigs on straw bedding and a high-tech bird scarer.
We also visited the main Danish pig genetics company, DanBred, a farm and the huge abattoir at Horsens. The farm was a five-year- old, 1,200-sow breeding unit where production is squarely aimed at the UK market, with side opening farrowing pens and straw bedding (fully automated, naturally).
Productivity was, as expected, huge – above the Danish average of 33 weaned/sow/year. Most pigs are finished at other farms in the same ownership and, as one of the 2,000 producers supplying finished pigs to Danish Crown, he is, in effect, one of the co-owners of the operation, including the UK operations of Tulip, Dalehead and BQP. He was uncompromising in his take on the way that things had been turning out financially at Danish Crown.
His pigs go to the abattoir at Horsens, which kills 20,000 pigs per day and 100,000 per week.
Aside from the efficiency and automation on show, the most notable feature is how they cater for visitors, with nine dedicated staff and a glass viewing gallery over the top of the plant enabling visitors to see operations from the lairage onwards.
They very regularly host school parties – our guide felt ‘the younger, the better’ to learn where their favourite meat comes from.
We really need to be able to do this in the UK to counter the amount of misinformation that youngsters receive from the other direction. With 2.23 head of pigs per person in Denmark compared with 0.07 in the UK, it is just as well that the sector appears to be highly valued.