Expansion means attention to detail

Sam Walton visits an East Yorkshire farrow-to-finish unit that has grown seven-fold in the past seven years through a carefully planned and executed expansion strategy

Some pig units are a bit like Topsy; they have grown, but not always in a tidy fashion. That’s not the case on the Buckle family’s unit at Holderness, where the growth has been carefully planned and executed with precision.

Seven years ago the herd had 150 sows, but it’s now just reaching the end of an expansion programme that has seen the numbers increase to 1,050 JSR Genepacker 90 sows, which are now mated with the new JSR GC900 boar. Current herd performance shows an average 13.5 born alive and 12 weaned.

Rick Buckle, who has responsibility for the pig herd as well as being involved on the arable side, is a pig enthusiast to say the least, and he’s planned every step of the new expansion with input from Paul Wright of Checkmate, who he says is way ahead of the field. They’ve gone through every detail, down to the last nut and bolt, and at the same time as the expansion, have moved from three-week to five-week batching.

They have worked out the required number of pig spaces and timing for refilling those spaces. They have also calculated the best feeding curve from their records and what they expect going forward.

The dry sow house has Roxell trickle feeders, but using units specially designed for feeding meal, which is produced on the farm using a tractor-powered Buschhoff mill and mixer. The rations often include waste muesli sourced for the Buckle family by Harbro from a factory in East Yorkshire.

Because the dry sows are on meal feeding, the bottles of the feeder don’t quite hold enough for the sows to be fed in one go, so they’re fed at 7am and again at 9am. This gives the stockman a chance to see if any are not eating. Under each feeder is a small motor that prevents the meal from clogging.

To achieve the required expansion, the Buckles needed to knocking down four old buildings, erecting a 125-place farrowing house alongside a dry sow house that has 60 pens each holding six sows. AM Warkup, which built the new facilities, joined these units, and some of the other existing buildings, with connecting passages for easier movement of pigs. The loading area has also been covered to make it more animal-friendly should there be inclement weather at the point of loading.

The farrowing house has Gestal sow feeders installed. Each morning there’s a printout of what each of the sows has eaten; any that don’t feed for whatever reason are easily picked up.

Being a forward thinker, Rick Buckle had already installed some LED strip lights into a pen in one of the finisher buildings last year to evaluate them. The first time he went in at night after they’d been fitted, he did wonder if he’d done the right thing, but after a couple of minutes he realised that the lights had a calming effect on him as well as the pigs. Going out of there and back into the regular strip lights, he found them almost dazzling. As and when any non-LED strip lights fail, he now replaces them with LEDs.

That experience encouraged him to install the Agrilamp ALIS LED system in both the new buildings. It’s a spectacular sight, and is having the desired effect on the pigs as well as being extremely economical to run. Having recently installed a 500kW wind turbine and by collecting rainwater from the roofs of the new buildings and the corn store, he has drastically reduced the costs of running the unit.

A couple of products from Schippers caught my eye on the unit: the first was a trolley for the farrowing house that allows easy tail docking with cauterisation as well as iron injections by simply placing the piglet’s neck against a pad and pushing the rear-end of the piglet against a small plate. Both systems are working well and saving a lot of time.

The other Schippers product was a blower that stands in the creep at farrowing and, when the sow stands up, sends in air to make the piglets move away from under the sow. Once she lies down again, the blower stops.

The pigs from the Buckle’s five-week system are marketed to Cranswick during a four-week period at a target weight of 90kg deadweight. A Pharmweigh three-way drafting system has been installed to split the pigs into three different weight groups when they go into the finisher system. The heaviest pigs go at one end of the building, with the lightest at the other.

One finishing house has five rooms of 12 pens with 25 pigs each, while the other has five rooms of 12 pens with a capacity of 32 pigs each. Splitting by weight means the rooms with the heavier pigs are emptied first, and all the rooms are emptied in a more uniform fashion, meaning there are no odd pigs left hanging around, allowing more time for washing out.

The Buckle’s unit has five staff, including manager Simon Craig. Rick Buckle speaks highly of the whole team, and is happy to leave things to Simon so he can remain involved with other parts of the farming business. Mr Buckle applauds their attitude to the job, and says they’re all excited about the new five-week batch system that will allow them all to work as more of a team as they will have two busy weeks, serving and weaning, and three easier weeks to allow for all other routine jobs. As there will only be 10 servings a year, all the staff will do that, and also all be involved in weaning and moving.

The family has another farm just 20 minutes away at Sunk Island where a weaner and finisher house is currently being built to take some of the extra pigs. The unit has plenty of older buildings that are already used to house pigs, and the mill and mix unit already travels there each week to deliver feed as it’s just a 20-minute drive.

Every aspect of the Buckle’s unit is constantly monitored, and every two years a major review is carried out on the advice given on things like feed and veterinary support. In my opinion, this has to be one of the top pig units in the country, and it was an absolute delight to visit.

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