Park Farm, Norfolk
There is a simple rationale with which our Pig Farmer of the Year regards his business: “It’s a straightforward outdoor farm. No bells, no whistles – I’m just a commercial grower.”
A commercial grower he may be, but it was exceptional technical performance and commercial nous that put Simon Watchorn in first place in a field of superb pig farmer finalists.
“Simon is achieving incredible performance from his outdoor-reared herd.”
Zoe Davies, chief executive, National Pig Association, and independent judge
The farm he runs near Bungay, Norfolk, is proof that attention to detail can drive high herd performance, even in the variable environment that outdoor-reared pigs provides.
Simon was one of the first, back in 1994, to spot movements in the market that suggested consumers were increasingly looking at where their food came from. He saw this as an opportunity and set up the pigs alongside his 400ha of arable land.
The business he and his wife have built is a bewildering array of diversifications, from a bed and breakfast to a refurbished farmyard rented out to small businesses, all overlooking the 600-strong herd of Rattlerow Landroc sows penned on light Norfolk gravel.
He began a “root-and-branch overhaul” of the farm five years ago, starting with marketing. “I realised that I can’t, at my farm size, compete with or fulfil orders with the speed that some of the bigger players can,” he says. “I had to grasp the nettle.”
Simon got security of supply by joining marketing co-operative Thames Valley Cambac in 2011.
The figures Simon is attaining from his Freedom Food outdoor pigs are nothing short of exceptional. Piglets weaned a sow is above the UK indoor average, at about 25 a sow a year. A 90% conception rate is put down to an enhanced diet and expert staff.
Meticulous record-keeping runs throughout the system, and management decisions are made on the evidence of the figures present.
- 400ha farm with arable, pigs, business units and a B&B
- 600-sow herd kept outdoors
- Two full-time staff on pigs, with relief from arable workers when necessary
- Performance of outdoor-reared besting indoor- reared pigs
- Strong focus on business, feed buying and margins
- Ambassadorial role in the wider pig industry
Simon is keen to point out that success is also put down to a team of two staff that know how to work with the pigs and one another well.
The farm operates a strict cull policy on sows, explaining that if a gilt performs poorly in her first parity she will be culled out, rather than chancing another poor pregnancy.
“If you keep chipping away at the bottom end, you increase the average,” he says. This is evident in his performance figures, which show a high performance right up to parity 5, and he expects to begin taking animals to parity 6 in the next few years, though he admits it will be a slow process.
Tail-docking and tooth clipping are unheard of on the farm and this, again, is put down to careful management.
He has formerly served as vice-chairman of the National Pig Association and is involved in a wide range of industry initiatives, including contingency planning for exotic disease outbreaks.
There is also a clear focus on protecting the margins and profitability of both his and other farmers’ businesses.
Stewartstown, Co Tyrone
Gary’s farm, home to 900 sows, has been a pioneering influence in the Northern Ireland pig sector over his 30 years in the business.
He has a successful career farming pigs behind him, and promising plans for the future.
Wellington Farm, Midlothian
Robin has spades of ambition and the farm, which has a 320-sow herd, is continually improving.
In the past five years he has completely transformed his business, primarily by importing the first fully Danish herd in to the UK.
“Simon has shown top technical performance, great business acumen and dedication to
the wider pig sector. He is
a worthy winner.”
William De Klein, director of agriculture and business development