Booth Pig Equipment considers its latest range of pig arcs to be the best it has ever produced. Graeme Kirk has been to the firm’s West Sussex base to find out what makes them so special.
Alot of businesses have benefited from being in the right place at the right time, and that’s certainly the case with Booth Pig Equipment. Based at Ford on the South coast, John and Marion Booth’s engineering and fabrication firm had been operating for about a decade when a local farmer, fed up with repairing timber pig huts, asked if they could make him some out of metal – the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, three decades later, the business is in the hands of the next generation of the family, with James Booth and his sister Caroline running the firm. And encouragingly, there’s no sign of any slowdown in the rate of innovation in the products coming out of their factory.
As well as the first metal huts, Booth’s also developed the first creep fenders; ventilation in huts; water troughs specifically for pigs; and ad-lib feeders. And while it’s not a product in its own right, the company also perfected the production of pig arcs in kit form, which has been central to its success.
While James and his father before him have clearly both been blessed with an aptitude for developing these new products, neither have ever been pig producers, but they have always worked closely with farmers on their developments.
“We’re proud to say that our range is designed by farmers and engineered by us,” says James. “A constant dialogue with leading outdoor producers has resulted in a range of products that offers performance, ease of management, life expectancy and value for money.
“A good example was the introduction of fenders for arcs. A farmer asked us to come up with a way to keep the piglets in for the first couple of weeks and the fender was the result. Like a lot of these developments, they have now become an industry standard.”
Another healthy dose of good luck was responsible for the development of Booth’s arc kits. Quite early on in the company’s history it was invited to exhibit at a Danish pig equipment show and, thanks to the advantageous exchange rates at the time, the firm picked up significant sales of pig arcs there.
“Back then the cost of living in Denmark was exceptionally high and we quickly learnt that the Danes didn’t want to be wasting time drilling holes to get their kits to fit together,” James says. “The cost of labour made a man with a drill an expensive luxury, and of course the Scandinavian eye for design demanded products that were easy to assemble time after time.
“Everything we exported had to have the holes punched out perfectly ready for assembly, and the lessons we learnt about creating the best equipment went on to benefit our customers here at home.”
Today, the company employs the latest production techniques including computer-aided design, laser cutting, precision metal folding and spot welding. Everything made by the firm is also completely managed by a computerised production schedule that allows raw materials to be delivered exactly when they are needed, meaning that the business is running as leanly and efficiently as possible with complete traceability on all its raw materials.
All this contributes to James’ claim that Booth Pig Equipment’s current standard pig arc range is the best and cheapest on the market – something he says is borne out by the fact there’s a worldwide trade in used arcs made by the firm.
Although you might think that pig arcs have changed little in the past 30 years, James can recall three major step changes in their development. The first saw the move from painted to galvanised metal work in 1991, which brought about an immediate significant increase in longevity. The early 1990s also saw the size of the arcs increase following advances in genetics and larger more prolific sows, which were bigger than anything that had gone before. And in 1997 Booth Pig Equipment introduced a tanalised timber sub-frame to its arcs to lift them off the ground and again increase longevity.
Now, another major development is about to be introduced by the company as it prepares to launch a premium range of arcs that feature hot-dip galvanised end panels and sides. While the firm’s standard range is made using galvanised steel plate made to the Z275 standard, which has a covering of zinc weighing 275g/square metre, the coating on hot-dip galvanised plate weighs an incredible 1,200g/square metre.
“This is a Rolls-Royce product that every farmer will immediately appreciate as they’re already familiar with hot-dipped products like gates and water troughs and know their reputation for longevity,” James says. “But they don’t come with a Rolls-Royce price tag; the farrowing arcs will cost about the same as our competitors’ standard offerings, while the larger dry sow arcs will cost about the same as our current standard models.”
The new range is the culmination of a project that started about eight years ago, when a customer requested a batch of hot-dipped arcs.
“We built them, but there were challenges that we had to work on before we could think about going into serial production,” James says. “The biggest issue was that the fabricated sections have to be hot dipped at 400C and will naturally try to return to the shape they held the last time they were at that temperature. This made it very difficult to build in things like ventilation holes as the edges would easily deform.”
To get around this problem, James has added a rear door to the back panels of the new arcs that includes the ventilation system and also allows access as required. The reinforcement used around the hole in the panel to support the door means it now has the structural strength to be hot dipped.
As you might expect, there’s a lot more to the new arcs, which have been computer designed from scratch from the ground up. The most important of the new developments is the introduction of a new hot-dipped side panel that sits at an angle to create a safe zone for the piglets in the farrowing arcs, but is vertical in the dry sow arcs.
At 25cm tall, the primary aim is to lift the galvanised roof sheets further off the ground, and just as importantly make them less likely to be come into contact with dirty bedding straw inside the arcs. Where the new range is fitted with a tanalised timber sub frame, the roof sheets now start 40cm off the ground.
Dry sow accommodation is available in 2.3m, 2.7m and 3.0m widths, all in lengths up to 6.0m. As well as a Standard Farrowing Hut, the range also includes a Gilt Farrowing Hut, a new innovation specifically designed for gilts and smaller sows. With individual farrowing paddock systems, it’s now possible to have specific housing for specific pig sizes therefore the farrowing range varies from 4.0 square metres to 4.8 square metres, with all huts available as insulated, semi-insulated or single-skin.
Booth Pig Equipment’s premium arc range is available now, and – like all the company’s products – will be built to order. Delivery to just about anywhere in the UK is free and will take about three weeks.
James is rightly proud of the new products, but admits he’s slightly apprehensive about just how long they’ll last.
“Our standard arcs are built to last 10-15 years, but it’s impossible to know just how long the new range will last,” he says. “It could be argued that we’ll be making an arc that lasts too long, but we have a reputation for producing the best and that’s something that we want to protect.”