Chris Fogden a first-generation farmer and Nuffield Scholar and owns and manages 950 outdoor sows on 40ha of rented land within the rotation of a large Norfolk arable estate
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, dry weather and the heat were making it very uncomfortable for the sows. At least this year, the sows are more comfortable, even if we are all wearing waterproofs.
Last year’s heat did cause a big drop in production, which we are struggling to come back from. A saving grace is our lowest pre- weaning mortality figures for a long time, but our numbers born are more appropriate for 20 years ago.
I’m not sure that it is the genetics we have been using. Nevertheless, we have changed source and, in the longer term we are switching to a home ‘criss/cross’ breeding programme featuring European line Large White and Landrace.
This is prompted by the growing realisation that the use of Duroc in damlines is flawed, as the breed is used as a terminal sire in the rest of the world. With a limited population size of breeding damline Durocs in any of the breeding companies supplying the UK outdoor market, genetic progress has been, and always will be, limited.
Any doubts about an indoor-type animal being able to do the job outside are countered by the experiences of other producers already successfully using this type of animal and my own experience of a small, within-herd multiplication herd of 60 LW/LR sows that performed magnificently.
Of course, our rubbish performance figures could just be my own incompetence, but I’m just as incompetent as I was when we were producing top 10%-type figures.
There, I’ve made it past halfway without saying anything about the current price situation. Currently, I feel, we are really missing a particular very large independent producer who was able, in times like these, to find enough finished pigs to sell on the spot market to get things moving upwards. Their sale to a large processor two years ago looks much better value now to the buyer than perhaps it did at the time, as it has enabled them to manipulate the market much better.
The trend for the processors to own production is continuing locally, sadly. Another large, long-standing and well-respected producer’s herds have joined another processor’s production arm. If some of the forecasts are correct, the Far Eastern situation will lead to over-expansion of the world pig herd and an inevitable crash in prices.
I, for one, have no stomach for going through a situation like the late 1990s again and might have to take an ‘early bath’ before we get there.
By which time, the processors’ shareholders won’t be too happy at losing money messing about with pigs either.