2 November 2001

Farm is back on the right track

Missing records have

made reconciling pig

numbers difficult at

Cansdale where units are

being pulled back into line.

Simon Wragg reports

LIFE is pretty uncomfortable for owner John Sleightholme as he works to bring the pig units back under his control after several staff walked out, as reported during our last visit.

"Im spending 10 hours/day out of the office working with our new teams to bring things right. Its tiring but has to be done," he says.

Analysis of stock records and a head count suggest up to 600 pigs are unaccounted for on the two affected units. "Im trying to determine if pigs have been removed or lost to the wasting disease PMWS. The fact that a fortnights worth of records are missing doesnt help."

Meanwhile, pig staff are grafting hard to improve conditions. "Were tackling one area each week to get back on top of the backlog of maintenance jobs; at least were making progress."

Leptospirosis in the sow population kick-started work at the 450-sow Cansdale site. "The signs were there; odd return dates and early farrowings. The latter means we could lose two out of the 16 litters farrowed each week – thats potentially 20 fewer pigs going into the system.

"To combat Lepto all feed bins have been cleaned out thoroughly and disinfected. Im also using an in-feed medication in sow diets called Orafac for a fortnight followed by Uniprim for a week."

Wasting disease still remains a major concern. Mortality at the 330-sow unit at Westfield has fallen, but is still running at 16%.

"The progress has not been nearly as much as Id hoped. Weve tried too hard to size weaners going into the flat-decks instead of leaving them in family groups which apparently reduces the impact of PMWS. Im also splitting the flat-decks into smaller groups for the same reason."

Industry estimates suggest production costs rise 1p/kg for each % increase in mortality. "Were up 11% on the norm so thats 11p/kg, although Id like to think we can get down to half of that."

Even so, with a breakeven cost of 92p/kg and finished prices hovering stubbornly at 95p/kg, wasting disease leaves no profit.

To compound the situation, finisher numbers are easing back as the effect of higher mortality earlier in the growth cycle filters through to the fattening pens. Income from sales will fall.

Finisher space remains tight, especially at the restocked unit. "We applied on Sept 15 to move 1700 pigs from a rented unit 1.2 miles inside North Yorks to an empty fattening unit at Willy How 1.4 miles inside East Yorkshire. Its been to no avail despite the fact weve sent pigs there for eight years," says Mr Sleightholme.

"The backlog means were fire-fighting. To create space in the fattening pens Im selling bacon pigs at the minimum weight of 85kg and sending off cutters and porkers to a buyer in Lancs.

"Were fortunate to be getting 98p/kg deadweight for them, but lose out on the extra kilos and margin if wed managed to get them up to the normal sale weight of 100kg."

Elsewhere, 55 cull sows went on the welfare scheme at £30/head giving a better return than selling to processors at 20p/kg before deductions, he says.

At least the arable enterprise is giving little trouble. Harvesting of Saturna potatoes for crisping was completed on Oct 18 just as the weather turned sour. Next years cereals have also been drilled into good seed-beds.

Some of this years harvest has been sold. About 300t of milling wheat (Malacca and Claire) went at £92/t having yielded 8.4t/ha (3.4t/acre). Supplies of feed wheat (Equinox) achieved £78/t. "Thats respectable," he says.

Field beans – 20ha (50 acres) destined for seed – have been sold marginally under budget at £104/t. "Taking into account a yield of 1.76t/acre against a budget of 2t, were £1350 adrift on the crop. That said, the yield was a good result compared with neighbouring farms. Hopefully, savings in sprays and contractors charges on the beans will recover some of the shortfall. " &#42

John Sleightholme hopes that splitting down flatdecks into smaller pens will reduce the impact of PMWS among weaners.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Westfield and Cansdale Farm, a 140ha (350 acre) largely arable unit on the east of the Yorks Wolds, farmed by John Sleightholme and his mother, Elizabeth. Both units are family-owned.

&#8226 The land is mainly chalk-based loam with small areas of underlying clay and gravel.

&#8226 Main arable crop is winter wheat. Potatoes and vining peas are also grown.

&#8226 All arable duties contracted out to neighbouring estate. Family buys inputs and decides where produce sold.

&#8226 Three indoor pig herds of 270, 330 and 600 sows selling progeny via contract finishers to local processors.

&#8226 A 30,000 broiler enterprise rearing birds from chicks through to 7.75lb liveweight. Sold to supermarkets via Grampian Country Foods.

&#8226 Farm staff of 11 on pigs and one man on broiler unit.