EASTON LODGE”S pig unit had its quarterly visit two weeks ago from our specialist pig veterinary adviser Adrian Cox of the Larkmead Veterinary Group in Oxfordshire. Also in attendance was John Goss our technical adviser from PIC.

The consensus was positive, with no serious problems identified. Mr Cox said: “The health of the pigs looked better than I can recall for many visits.” Such words, after the wasting diseases PMWS and PDNS, were encouraging and a morale boost for us all.

Breeding herd performance is good, with more than 10 piglets weaned a sow a litter for the 12 months to last February. Post-weaning performance is also encouraging, with mortality down and daily liveweight gain improving as the Hampshire 327 boar progeny have a greater influence on the rearing and finishing herds.

The downside is the fall in slaughter weight in the finishing herd as more pigs come through. The rise is estimated at an extra 50 pigs a week.

 Lack of accommodation at the final stage of production has become frustrating. The unit can produce the output, but is unable to capitalise on the potential. So we are looking for a grow-out unit to take surplus production and would consider any sensible offer for bed-and-breakfast for between 600 and 800 pigs within 100 miles of Stamford.

Progress with fieldwork is steady after a strange mix of weather since the New Year. January was mainly warm and dry with a lowest minimum temperature of -2.4C and a rainfall of 20mm.

February started warm and gradually cooled to a lowest temperature of -4.7C. We also had a snow covering for five days from Feb 21, but once again the month was dry, with only 29.1mm of rainfall.

SEED -BEDS

March has been dry, too, which has prompted us to make a start with seed-bed preparations for both peas and sugar beet. We have a total of 30.22ha (75 acres) allocated to peas at Easton Lodge this year. About half the area will be sown with the newly recommended white pea variety Bilbo and the rest to the vining pea Geisha.

Bilbo is new to us and looks promising. NIAB describes it as: “A very high yielding variety with very good standing ability and moderate resistance to downy mildew.” It is ranked number one in the UK and if it performs as well as Enigma, which we grew last year, I shall be pleased.

Next to sow will be Geisha. Part of the crop is to be sown after forage rape direct drilled into wheat stubble last summer and subsequently grazed off with sheep over winter.

The pea land has been opened up with the Kongskilde Vibroflex before drilling and followed with the power harrow drill combination unit starting on Mar 18.

Sugar beet land has been prepared by using two passes of the pressure harrows at Easton Lodge. By late afternoon on Feb 18, we had sown 15.1ha (37 acres) of Latoya and Dominika in good conditions. The sugar beet seed-beds are moist, but still quite cold. Hopefully, as the temperatures rise, germination with the aid of Advantage and Gaucho dressings will be prompt and even.

Cereals and oilseeds are beginning to grow after the shock of cold northerly winds last month. They are starting to use the ammonium nitrate applied to the winter barley, oilseed rape and second wheats in mid-February and more recently to the first wheats in mid-March.

All the nitrogen will be applied to barley for malting by the end of March as well as the second of three applications to the oilseed rape. Also, we will try to apply half the nitrogen requirement to sugar beet after drilling as well as completing the total farm application of phosphate and potash fertilisers to the peas and sugar beet crops.