June 2015: No one can afford to stand still nowadays

“Stand still and you’ll go backwards,” one of my former bosses, who was a most entrepreneurial gentleman, used to say. No one can accuse the British pig industry of standing still; despite many difficult times, it always seems to emerge stronger and more go ahead.

As one sheep is deemed to be another sheep’s worst enemy, the same could also be said about pigs from a disease point of view. I do wonder if this is one of the reasons why we have seen such huge growth in the bed-and-breakfast (B&B) sector of our industry. It’s certainly allowed many units to increase sow numbers and specialise in breeding by taking the growing and finishing pigs off site.

I remember a well-known pig unit that was developed in the late 1970s without any thought of wind direction. The wind ended up carrying all the bugs from the finishers, through the growers to the actual breeding sector. Many years later, it was redeveloped the other way round.

I suppose if we think about it, that has seen the demise of lots of smaller mixed units as larger units have done just that, grown bigger and increased sow numbers. Batch farrowing has also had a huge effect in the control of disease, and those farms that still specialise from farrow to finish, with high-health stock available and new health programmes on farms, have the ability to do the whole job better than they did. Another problem smaller units have is the need to fill a lorry when pigs go to market. Lorries no longer go from farm to farm to make up a load, and half-full lorries are expensive. Batch farrowing on the smaller farms does help in some way towards that.

As our industry developed through the 1960s and 1970s, most farms had a few sows and some beef cattle, both of which were probably kept in traditional straw yards and gradually moved into modern buildings as they began to appear. Some of those farmers went out of pigs as putting up new, modern buildings wasn’t on their radar at that time. Many of those former pig farmers are now bringing their straw yards, and other accommodation, back into use for B&B, and some are even putting up new buildings as the performance is so much better. It looks like B&B is here to stay in a big way.

Having recently spent some time in Aberdeenshire, I never cease to admire the Scots for their go-ahead attitude. I went to see a new building with superb ventilation; not all piggeries have that, and hopefully once the pigs have been through it we’ll be given the results. I always say that after walking through a piggery, you shouldn’t “stink” when you come out. Many’s the time that my eyes have watered, and if it does that to humans, what does it do to the pigs?

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About The Author

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