How a trip the Netherlands showed what can be done

Chris Fogden, a first-generation farmer and Nuffield Scholar, owns and manages 950 outdoor sows on 40ha of rented land within the rotation of a large Norfolk arable estate

If you’re reading this, either the sky didn’t fall in and day has continued to follow night, or maybe parliament kicked the can ever further down the road.

You will appreciate the problem of not having any idea what the political landscape will look like when Pig World hits the doormat, when the editor needs this contribution by the middle of October!

The glass-half-full side of me expects that the potentially disastrous tariff levels set by our Government to ensure that food prices don’t sky rocket in the event of a no deal are only temporary and will be readjusted to realistic levels when things settle down.

Whatever happens, resilience and efficiency are the keys to surviving and even thriving. A recent trip to the Netherlands showed us what can be done – seeing litters of up to 20 quality piglets being reared was quite something, even if it took rather a lot of milk supplement.

The farm concerned had hit the jackpot. Its investment in expansion and high production was being rewarded with the doubling of the weaner price since the start of the year and looked set to be maintained.

We seem to be the only place on Earth not benefiting from the global pork market. I would like to believe that outside Europe we might have a serious stab at becoming a great trading nation, looking beyond our own markets. The Dutch have achieved it inside Europe and see that as being a key factor to their success, we have achieved little inside the EU, so do we as a nation have the mindset to achieve something outside?

In reality, though, I haven’t given our political situation too much thought, as the major preoccupation has been the site move. With one team member down for several weeks with a torn hamstring, every hour has been precious and we have achieved a lot. The 340 farrowing paddocks got moved in a frantic five-week period, along with getting started on the dry sow radial and starting our new AI system.

After that, work began on what I now learn is a GDU, a Gilt Development Unit. I didn’t realise that we had one of those until the trip to Holland. It isn’t as swanky as it sounds because it is the area where we grow homebred gilts and, as we have no other growing or finishing pigs, by default the gilts are in a specialist system.

Current thinking is that gilts should be at least 160kg at first service and, if reared on a specialist gilt diet, weight should be the focus rather than age, as they will be plenty old enough anyway.

I am very pleased with the look of our gilts on our current system. They are pretty large, though, so I hope they might give birth and rear huge numbers, to hold them back from growing too massive. Fingers crossed.

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