June 2014: The end of the brush and shovel days

It’s a fact that our industry is now much more technical than it was, with meaningful targets to achieve. On most modern units the daily drudge of shovelling manure is hopefully a thing of the past, and computers are playing much more of a role, not only in planning and recording, but in feeding regimes too.

I was well taken with the system I saw recently at Harper Adams. On the finisher side they have installed equipment that measures the feed used by each pen, and it’s also able to send different rations to each pen if required.

When I was there, the system was being used to record the effect and saving of reducing lysine in the latter stages. It’s quite likely that finisher pigs don’t need any at all for the last two weeks. This might make for a complicated feeding system, but once equipped, the savings would be great. Harper Adams hopes the trials will eventually lead to savings of about £4/pig in feed costs, which is not to be sniffed at.

I have no doubt at all that modernisation of pig production will continue apace, so an exciting future lies ahead for the youngsters coming into the industry, as the brush, shovel and wheelbarrow disappear! This was even more evident at the Pig Fair, with ever increasing technology on show that demands a more intelligent approach to pig keeping.

Thankfully the amount of training now available and being taken up in the industry means that stockmen are now seen as specialists and worthy of being looked after.

Years ago, anyone could wield a brush and shovel, and on many units pig keeping took it’s natural course. This meant if a sow farrowed, she farrowed; and if she didn’t, she would either run with the boar until she conceived or until someone realised she wasn’t ever going to get in pig.

Of course, that was when most mixed farms would have a few sows and 50 was a good-sized herd. There weren’t really any diseases to worry about, and it was a long time before you’d see the specialist pig vets that have become essential as herd sizes increased.

I remember when I was working for a farmer auctioneer in 1958, one of our clients brought in six Landrace cross hogs to the fat market that I thought were extremely long. I mentioned this to him and he said he’d already sent some to the bacon factory, which had commented they were the longest pigs they’d ever had in. He also said he’d some gilts that were equally long.

I mentioned this to my boss, who dispatched me to look at these special gilts. I bought six and they all had 16-plus born for six litters, unheard of in those days. I often look back and think what a foundation they would have made to the start of a breeding company!

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

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