19 May 1995

Green pork gives that extra profit…

By Jessica Buss

SELLING pork pigs on a "green contract" is earning Essex-based Writtle College pig unit an extra £5 a pig. Its contract with Dalehead Foods, Cambridgeshire has increased profit despite higher feed costs of up to £3 a pig.

The contract requires bedding of straw or wood shavings for all animals, no tail docking or castration, finishing animals mixed at weaning only, and no in-feed antibiotics or growth promoters (sick pigs are treated with antibiotics under vet supervision).

Writtle College, Chelmsford, chose to sell its pigs on the "green" contract, as it was already following most of the guidelines required, especially those for animal welfare.

Bernard Orme, senior agriculturalist at Writtle, claims the unit is successful due to modern breeding, easily managed accommodation and most importantly good day-to-day management.

The 134-sow unit has been managed by Richard Hopkins for six years. "His care and interest results in low mortality," says Mr Orme. This is achieved by good hygiene especially in the farrowing accommodation. "Crates are washed out thoroughly and floors repainted between litters to stop piglets scuffing themselves," says Mr Hopkins.

Sow and boar management is crucial for a good number of pigs born alive. The 70 dry sows are housed in one group. The old sow-house was stripped and kennels were replaced with a straw yard, weaned sow pen and boar pen.

This was designed for ease of management and so sows can be close to a boar at all times. After weaning six to eight sows are placed in the weaned sow pen, adjacent to boar pens.

The sows usually come on heat in five days.

Once served the sows join the main group. They must compete for feed from overhead bucket feeders which drop 2.4kg of pelleted feed a sow into the straw yard. In the farrowing house sows feed is increased gradually to a maximum of 8kg a head to maintain condition at weaning.

Piglets are weaned at an average of 24 days and moved into unheated outdoor bungalows bedded with wood shavings. At seven weeks the weaners are moved into straw yards and at 13 weeks moved for the final time into one of three finishing houses. From weaning to slaughter all pigs are offered pelleted feed ad lib.

Breeding stock are purchased and, as medicine use is limited, stock are quarantined at the college dairy unit.

Cotswold Platinum F1 hybrid sows and gilts, chosen for their high prolificacy, are put to Large White boars to produce good quality finishing pigs.

Visitors to the unit increase the risk of pig diseases. But it has its advantages. "Sows are not readily disturbed by people, making them easier to handle," claims Mr Hopkins.

"The unit is no palace," adds Mr Orme, proving that low labour, electricity water and machinery costs are more important to profit than capital expenditure.

The college pig unit could use its teaching role and animal welfare objectives as an excuse for poor performance, but the technical results achieved have made them winners of the BOCM Pauls Agricultural colleges pig herd competition for two years running.


Performance results

12 months to Mar 1995

Average sows in herd134

Pigs born a litter11.92

Pigs reared a litter10.19

Litters/sow/year2.4

Pigs sold a sow a year24.5

Average liveweight of

pigs sold88kg

Mortality (birth to

slaughter)9.4%