Calling in to visit North Farm Livestock, winner of the Outdoor Producer of the Year at our 2015 Awards, I got a lot of positive vibes.
Started in 1982 by Roger Newton, now one of three directors alongside Michael Baker and Ron Brigham, North Farm Livestock takes great pride in what it does. Michael, the manager, has to take a lot of credit for the way in which they have set out to run the business. It is tricky enough to run any outdoor unit but when you have two breeding units with 2,150 sows between them and 11 grower finisher units, it is a totally different ball game.
The Norfolk business is set up to meet Freedom Food specifications and pigs are marketed through BQP. Currently the sows are from PIC, Large White x Landrace x 20 per cent White Duroc, mated to the Hampshire boar and Michael said the make up of the skin on the Hampshire helps the pigs guard against sunstroke. Each of the breeding sites are all-in, all-out after six litters.
They probably start with a few extra sows but never lose more than 15 per cent so always have plenty of pigs to market – 1,600 per week in fact. Other farmers, who are on the same high standards, also produce weaners for them.
North Farm has noted an upward trend in growth rates and a downward trend in feed conversion ratio from healthier weaners.
Michael uses a three-weekly batch system, which has been made possible by Regumate. Having made huge strides, Michael said there is more to come.
One notable feature on the individual bird-proof troughs for suckling sows is a dial that tells the stockman how much to give to each individual sow, which means anyone can feed them in case of holiday or illness.
Here they use Morgan arks, but make their own, substantial, tents for the dry sows and weaners to finisher. Four men are responsible for that, plus tasks such as moving the sites and the cultivation of the land and anything along those lines which allow for the stockmen to do exactly what they are good at.
There are seven staff on the breeding units and 10 on the finisher side. Each unit has individual feed bins to be able to load the machines that fill the feeders. All feed comes from ForFarmers as part of the assurance scheme, gilts are brought in at 7kgs from one source and they receive a two-stage starter ration, weaner and then grower. At 18 weeks they are brought onto the breeding units, restricted to 3kgs gilt ration, then down to 2.5kgs, leaving them in excellent condition for mating.
“Something I had not seen before was the chequer plate layout for the weaners through to finishing”
Something I had not seen before was what Michael called a ‘chequer plate layout’ for the weaners through to finishing. If you imagine a chess board with alternate black and white squares in each direction, they use alternate squares for 200 pigs in adjacent tents, which gives them about 40 pigs per acre.
When the first batch has gone, tents and wires are moved onto the clean squares and the manure from the used square removed. This has made a huge difference to health and growth rates and gives the land a bit of a rest. Worming is done routinely through the water and because of the improvement in health, no in-feed medication has been used for two years.
This system means no bullying or tail-biting due to the relatively large numbers and I have to say the pigs looked fantastic.
To start with, the weaners, which are sexed at weaning, are contained with bales within an area in front of the tents with sheep trough-type feeders to enable them to start eating.
There is one strand of electric wire within the compound.
After a few days they begin to eat out of the massive Henderson feeders, ideal for outdoors, and then the front bales are removed so the pigs can start to use the whole section allocated to them.
Performance on one unit is 24.94 weaned and the other, which had a small problem, was 22.50 but rapidly improving
The one-strand idea is used everywhere on the units except if boars are in adjacent paddocks, when two are used. Where one strand is in use, it is very low to start with and heightened as the pigs grow. It is quite unusual to have any pigs escape.
In addition, gilts and dry sows are trough-fed which eliminates scavenging birds.
Performance on one unit is 24.93 weaned and the other, which had had a small problem, was 22.50 but rapidly improving. Rolling mortality from weaning to slaughter at 80kgs is 1.8 per cent.
Michael paid tribute to his staff, who are largely trained in-house. On the rearing side, only one had previous experience and on the breeding side only one had not. I came away with food for thought and it has to be one of the best outdoor units I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.