February 2015: Thank goodness for polythene pipes

The rapidly changing climate makes me wonder where we’re heading. What’s happened to the severe winters and the hard frosts? Not that I want to be snowed in, or frozen.

I remember only too well the days when we had steel water pipes that would split easily if they froze. I would go around at bedtime and find a yard or a pen flooded. Yes, you could then turn the mains off, but that would mean none of the other pigs would have any water.

Many’s the time I rang my tame plumber at 10:30pm and he always came – and so did his bill! It was good to eventually have everything converted to polythene piping. Strangely enough, the rats liked polythene and the lagging round them. I would sometimes find a gnawed pipe, but at least that was easily fixed and I always kept plenty of fittings.

I suppose there are much better ways these days of preventing frosted pipes. I remember when the first electric wiring came in that you wrapped around the pipe and it would heat it up slightly, but perhaps the best idea was one I saw in Sweden, where farmers heated the water and pumped it round a circuit, but then they have temperatures much lower than we do.

One of the things that makes life interesting, or at least makes pig-keeping interesting, is the way units are managed these days. Years ago, we never seriously thought about pigs per sow and conversion rates weren’t easily recorded with some of the old systems – these things didn’t really seem to matter then.

We never thought about empty farrowing pens and the loss of production that entailed, and there was no such thing as targets that aimed to maximise the potential output of the unit. That seems to be the key aim these days, and when you do the costings it makes you think about what could have been achieved all those years ago. One empty farrowing pen per week for a year is a potential loss of output of more than £50,000.

Nowadays we have some very sophisticated automatic feeding regimes that have completely revolutionised the industry, for sows as well as growing and finisher pigs. And we don’t need so many wheelbarrows, brushes and shovels as we used to have, which means the stockmen can now spend more time managing the unit to obtain these sometimes elusive targets we have been set.

Our industry has certainly changed from the backyard industry it used to be 60 years ago, but at least there were always competitive buyers back then for whatever pig you had to sell.

> Yorkshire farmer Sam Walton is a former pig producer and the founding editor of Pig World

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