26 March 1999

Investing profit helps cushion the lean times

In the second of this series,

Simon Wragg finds out how

careful investment when

pigs are profitable pays off

INVESTING in sow accommodation and wet feeding equipment when pigs were profitable has helped one Shropshire producer ensure rearing costs are kept low and losses reduced while prices are poor.

Simon Brown of Poplars Farm, Brockton, Much Wenlock, is typical of producers reaping reward for in-vesting pig profits from better years.

The 630-sow unit, run in partnership with his wife Jane and brother Chris, invested £200,000 in new sow accommodation ahead of this years ban on stall and tethers.

A major decision was to include wet feeding for sows in straw yards using electric feeders. The ability to use low cost by-products and control feed intakes ahead of farrowing were two deciding factors. Grower and finisher diets are also wet fed.

Extensive use is made of whey from a local dairy, lactose and wheat-derived products from further afield to reduce feed costs. Typically sow rations – formerly mill and mixed on the farm using home-grown cereals – have fallen by £5/t at todays input prices.

"Weve also gutted a former stall house and changed it to slatted finisher accommodation for pigs between 65kg and 100kg liveweight, again using wet feed. This isnt offered ad-lib; restricting wet feed allows us to keep control over finishing grades while lifting deadweight by 3kg to 70kg," says Mr Brown.

The only area where wet feeding isnt used is for weaners up to 15kg liveweight. "Ive seen it used in Ireland and Im cautious as scouring can be a problem," he adds.

To help identify where pig health or poor quality feedstuffs are reducing performance, unit manager Robert Beckett makes full use of a centrally-positioned digital weigh pen when moving pigs between stages. "We can pick up a 200g/pig difference in weight which isnt possible with the naked eye," he says.

Weights are also checked as lorry loads are sent to abattoirs via the farms 50t weighbridge. Weight records indicate killing out % and can be used to check abattoir returns. Loads sent to large processors have been recorded at 74.5%, while smaller abattoirs have returned figures of 72%. "These variations can have a significant impact on profits when 2kg/pig is lost for a unit selling 15,000 finishers annually," stresses Mr Brown.

The family is optimistic about the future and has bought a 450-sow multiplication unit near Dudley, West Midlands. "It was a good investment having been recently refurbished and restocked."

"We have served notice to cease multiplication. Premiums paid by breeding companies to the multiplier are currently about £10 a gilt which is unsatisfactory and doesnt cover the extra costs. Were getting 23 pigs/sow/year at the Dudley unit against 25 pigs at Brockton, slower growth and poorer grades for gilts not selected as replacements.

"But we have an order to supply 180 gilts every six weeks to Belgium and will continue to supply it for the time being."

Finisher contracts are also being reviewed. Pigs previously marketed to Avonmore from the Dudley unit are now sold on the spot market. Finishers from Brockton continue to be sold to Malton Bacon via Scotlean Pigs. "Long-term bigger buyers might provide better security. Its a matter of watching and seeing what happens," adds Mr Brown.

"We know pigs can offer good profits and that gives cause for optimism. However, I dont anticipate returning to the days when £1.10/kg was achieved for long spells. We still need two years of good prices to recover."

INVESTMENT

&#8226 Wet feed lowers costs.

&#8226 Weigh pigs regularly.

&#8226 Check abattoir data.