Piglet health is on the up, but not because of my cunning plan!

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

My latest stupid idea has come to haunt me. Or more accurately, the plan made during last autumn’s site move that we would move the farrowing paddocks twice a year to improve farrowing paddock hygiene. The plan means we now have five weeks, twice a year, of squeezing fencing, plumbing and moving huts, fenders and water troughs in among all the other routine tasks.

Over the course of our time on the previous site, weaning weights became more of a struggle to maintain and mortality levels rose so I decided to try and stop that happening on the new site by pinching someone else’s idea of having two lots of farrowing paddocks and moving between them each spring and autumn.

Meanwhile, part of our problem was diagnosed as Leptospirosis and this was dealt with by a change of vaccination – and pre-weaning mortality improved a lot. More recently, keen to know if coccidiosis was a problem for us, my vet advised that the best way would be to start using toltrazuril and see what happened.

To cut a long story short, dosing each piglet is very worthwhile and I would be very loath to move away from it. This summer we managed to keep weaning weights above 7kg, so I have high expectations through the winter, as well as expectations of an aching left arm after picking each one up at weaning for vaccination. So things have improved, but not through six- monthly farrowing paddock moves.

There are some pluses for doing it, though. It means that the farrowing paddocks are much smaller than they were, at about 12 metres by 12 metres. This means that there are no intermediate electric fence posts, saving on build time and on potential fence problems. The smaller paddocks mean there is a much shorter walk involved when checking at feeding, a huge time saving. Regular moving gives the opportunity to clean and re-site the water troughs as a necessary part of the routine.

One disadvantage of a smaller paddock is that there is not sufficient flight distance for a timid gilt if someone walks into it, which can mean, if we are not careful, gilts breaking fences. Also the tighter space in the paddock makes manoeuvring the huts and mucking out used beds with a loader very tight. The number of damaged fenders is proof of this.

Nevertheless, it is pleasant to have new farrowing accommodation every six months but not so good to have the extra workload. So I’m still very undecided as to how worthwhile it is.


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