Making the job easy

Sam Walton has been to an East Yorkshire unit where a simple pig-rearing system leaves the owner plenty of time for his other enterprises and interests

The Bloom family, based near Beverley, is well known for its many achievements in the farming world. Its enterprises have included chickens, ducks, beef cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as arable farming, and there’s an interest in Shire horses too.

Father Jim was chairman of Cranswick, helping to push that business on for a number of years, and he has also recently completed a two-year stint as chairman of the Limousin Cattle Society.

It’s more than 20 years ago since the family closed its 300-sow breed-to-finish unit, although pigs have still been a part of the business for half that time. Bed-and-breakfast rearing of weaners was part of the mix of enterprises for the first seven years after the sows left the unit, and they were reintroduced three years ago after a 10-year break.

A modern poultry set-up that started off producing ducks initially replaced the main pig enterprise, although most of the buildings now produce laying pullets for Jim’s eldest son, James, who now has layers based at several sites.

Younger son Richard, meanwhile, runs the family farm – something I have to say he does very well indeed. His move back into pigs came about when the decision was taken to come out of ducks. That left a large steel-framed building free that was ideal for converting into straw yards.

This shed now has 10 bays that each hold 87 pigs from about 30kg to finish, while a former sheep shed – built more than 40 years ago with an expected life of 20 years – is home to about 900 weaners from 7kg until they are transferred to the finishing shed via a simple race system.

I’ve seen many similar set-ups, so what was different about this one? Well first, Richard says he likes to see things tidy and, having seen lots of straw yards where the dung is squeezing out under the doors and can rot away the bottom of the stanchions, he was not prepared to let that happen on his unit. Therefore, he has a separate set of small gates about two feet inside the main gates to each yard. This works well and allows access to the yard for animal inspection and, of course, it achieves the objective of keeping the concrete clean in front of the gates.

Before the pigs go into the pens, three lots of large bales, stacked two high, are put in place and the strings cut on the top one so that flaps of straw can be thrown down once or twice a week. A couple of strings are also cut on the bottom bale so the pigs can chew and gradually scatter the straw there. And as time passes, the remaining strings are cut so that none end up in the manure.

Bedding up

On the wall tops between each yard, Richard has made a simple metal frame to sit bales on; these too have the strings cut when needed and straw spread as required. He didn’t want a daily system of bedding up or a straw chopper and blower, which he thought would create a lot of dust. He wanted the job made easy and, as it stands, the current time taken for bedding down the pigs is no more than 15 minutes each day.

Along the front of this shed there’s another race with removable gates for mucking out and this extends round to the unit’s loading ramp. Feeding is done from the original bins from years ago, although the feed system itself has been updated, via a row of hoppers on a plinth at the back of each yard.

So far as the weaner shed goes, this former sheep building has a central row of feeders that sit on concrete panels. This keeps the feeders off the floor above the straw and allows the piglets a ledge to stand on. The panels are removed by forklift for cleaning out. The pigs have large bale pens against a wall with a temporary lid over each area.

The latest 900 weaners had arrived the day before I visited and you’d have thought they’d been there all their lives as they’d taken to the long water troughs on a raised area and feed troughs in unbelievable fashion.

Richard wanted an easy system and he has made it easy, and already has his eyes on two of his other buildings to hold a further 900 pigs. In time he also plans to drop the existing weaner shed and extend the current grower/finisher shed to maintain numbers – all keeping the current simple system in place.

This will make sure he’s still got time to run the other enterprises as well as showing his beloved Shires and his original horse drawn Yorkshire Wagon. A true stockman if ever there was one.

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