October 2014: Time to reflect on what might have been

There are times when I miss my pigs and there are times when I don’t. Being without them for almost 20 years has given me time to reflect on what might have been. Being a tenanted farm, pigs were never top of the landlord’s agenda, which I fully appreciate, but his then agent was very supportive when we wanted to put up new buildings.

I think things would be very different today as Village Farm is exactly that, with the homestead slap bang in the middle of the village main street. When I did expand the unit, most of the people who lived in the village were country folk and understood that at times there would be a slight odour from slurry and FYM; there would also be noise and movements of farm machinery and so on. In these modern times, we’ve many new residents who perhaps don’t understand what needs to go on to keep a farm ticking over.

By now, all the buildings would have been obsolete, and to be an efficient producer these days would mean having modern buildings – perhaps as a complete unit in the paddock behind the yard, which would never have obtained planning permission in a conservation area.

At the time I had the unit, we were able to adapt old cow sheds, fold yards, wagon sheds and Dutch barns, and by putting in several containerised units between them it gave a nice mixture of slurry and straw-based systems. And back then, there weren’t the sort of targets around that we have these days. It would have been fun, I suppose, to make sure that the output from the unit was maximised and all the crates utilised, and I never considered having a batch system.

We didn’t have Regumate to control heats for serving, and generally sows farrowed as and when. AI was in its infancy when I started on my own in 1973, and I’m not even sure if we knew then not to work a boar too often, but as they were always keen to work, we perhaps thought it didn’t matter.

When I first started using AI, the catheters were thick and rubber and were boiled after use, ready for the next week when the man from the MLC called in on his rounds with whatever semen he had available – nominated boars weren’t really in vogue then. Can you imagine such an antiquated system operating today, plus, of course, the risk of going from farm to farm?

Today we’ve high biosecurity, dedicated contracts with specifications, production systems, stockmen’s skills, targets and modern buildings to help us achieve all this. Some of the costs of these modern buildings are eye watering, so perhaps, on reflection, when my son Victor said he wasn’t interested in farming, he did me a good turn.

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

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