February 2016: A new respect for the common housefly

No doubt many of you watch Countryfile, and just occasionally pigs get a mention. Recently there was a discussion about the price and availability of soya from Brazil, which led to an interesting experiment going on to provide protein from insects. I know that certain types of exotic insects are eaten in some obscure part of the world, but if trials are a success, if it’s passed, and if producing larva for feed from flies does become a commercial reality, then I’ll have more respect for flies than I had before.

It could mean a new type of farming altogether, as producing protein here this year by growing beans has been a financial disaster at half the price of last year. I’m assuming that more pig farmers may well have taken the opportunity to buy cheap beans to use in their rations. There was a thought years ago that a 5% inclusion rate was sound practice, but I know several farmers who’re now using beans as their only source of protein with excellent results. I have no plans to grow any next year, but maybe I should if everybody else also stops producing them.

Several pig farmers are worried about the first half of this year, and even with low feed prices, their margins have been eroded. I know we’ve had all this before, many times, but each time it gets worse and more expensive. I do wonder sometimes if that’s the reason we now have half the number of sows we had when Pig World first started 28 years ago. Thankfully, they are probably producing half as many more pigs than they did back then.

Genetics, I would say, has had a huge effect not only on numbers born, but the ability to rear them. Housing has also had a huge effect, as we learn more about insulation and ventilation particularly. Getting pigs off the farm into bed-and-breakfast has helped improve health also, and disease control – or perhaps more likely prevention, with the use of vaccines and healthier conditions in the accommodation – has made huge strides.

Nutrition has come on a long way since I was a lad and was mixing a ration of 65% barley, 25% sharps and 10% fishmeal plus vitamins and minerals with a shovel on the floor. Note that very little wheat was used in those days, while today very little barley is used.

Pigs are nowhere near as fat as they were, and as fat costs four times more to put on than lean, that has made a huge difference to production costs. There are more byproducts available for feeding now, which on many units have replaced the old swill feeding practice. When done properly, this was no bad thing, but all you need is one rotten apple in the barrel and the whole country could be affected by Foot-and-Mouth, and we certainly don’t want that again.

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About The Author

Sam Walton is a Yorkshire farmer and former pig producer, and the founding editor of Pig World.