Sam Walton has been to Norfolk to see a producer who’s not only set up his own successful finishing unit, but has diversified into erecting buildings for other pig producers as well
Pigs are one of the few ways a young person can still start on their own in agriculture. It has happened often over the years, and even more so since bed-and-breakfast for pigs took off in a big way.
Take Tom Wright, for example. He worked on the family farm at Moulton St Mary’s, in Norfolk, but wanted to do his own thing. He had an interest in pigs, and after buying 3.5 acres from his father in 2006, he built two superb straw-based sheds himself – having had experience of building a barn on the family farm – for finishing pigs. Each shed has a Shufflebottom steel frame and Tom’s own design for the pens; there are 16 in each building, ready to take 44 pigs from 7kg to 100kg.
Tom was very conscious of the need to get the ventilation right, so he designed a system for curtains that actually fit flush to the side of the shed. He began by taking in pigs for BQP, and his system worked so well that in 2009 he built a third shed exactly the same as the first two. Now, he takes in 2,000 weaners in one batch.
In 2010 he built a house, which he shares with his partner Laura Parker, on the site. And the same sort of care and attention to detail went into that project too. Although Laura had nothing to do with pigs before she met Tom, and yes, she has a full-time job elsewhere, she knows exactly what’s going on and what needs to be done; and she’s always around when new pigs arrive or to help out when required.
This is extremely helpful to Tom as he now spends a lot of time away, going around the country erecting similar Shufflebottom sheds, laying concrete on the new units and, of course, installing his rather unique curtains. This new enterprise started by word of mouth from neighbours who saw what he had done, and also through BQP bringing a lot of visitors to see Tom’s immaculate site.
There’s a large concrete area around the whole set up that is kept clean and tidy. That immediately catches your eye as you approach and, like on any other pig unit, is usually an indication that the rest of the set-up will not only be as clean, but also efficient.
Stephen Saunders, a young man who works part-time on a neighbouring farm, spends three hours/day on Tom’s unit from Monday to Friday. He mucks the pigs out, makes sure they have clean straw and that the feed system is running okay. This helps Tom to work on building his new pig-building business, which he’s called Spring Farm Systems.
Having a borehole helps greatly, and allows proper washing out to be done between batches. There are two large water tanks on the wooden gantry in the centre of each of the sheds. These ensure that the water doesn’t freeze in winter and, if there should be a problem with the supply, there’s always adequate water on tap until the issue is resolved.
The shed layout is quite simple; there’s a scrape passage at each end of the straw-based pens with a partition placed not quite halfway along the pen to start with, which enables the pigs to be seen from the gantry when they first come in.
A plastic sheet is rolled along a section of the top of the pens when the pigs arrive, to act like a kennel, but as they grow this sheet is retracted and the partition is removed so they then have the full width of the pen. Tom has made sure there are plenty of nipple drinkers. These are sited on the scrape passage doors and are adjustable for height.
The first pen in one of the sheds is kept as a hospital pen, but only needs to be used occasionally.
I noticed there were round bales of straw lined up outside, but not touching. There’s less waste that way, and Tom will not allow any wet or tainted straw to be used; that goes straight onto the manure heap. He’s currently building a straw barn to avoid any waste.
One of the things that has revolutionised pig keeping is the choice of plastic panelling that’s now available. It’s easy to clean, which means it’s hygienic; it’s easy to erect and takes up a lot less room than concrete blocks; and, of course, the panels can be moved to other sites should the need arise.
Tom has worked with Quality Equipment to ensure that all the plastic panels are exactly the size he wants them. And the same thing applies to the Shufflebottom buildings; he can order them to be delivered to any site, and they’ll arrive ready to be built up into exactly the right size.
There are various means of payments in the many differing bed-and-breakfast scenarios that reflect mortality, feed conversion, growth rates, and carcase quality. Tom showed me his latest returns and he had full marks on everything; a fantastic performance that he’s quite rightly proud of.
It’s no wonder he has already won many awards. It was a pleasure to visit him and a delight to look round. I’m sure that Tom Wright will be a name to watch for in the future, and it’s all down to his attention to detail.