21 December 2001

Joint ventures welcome boost for pig enterprise

A new joint venture has

eased pressure on finisher

space at Cansdale, where

pig and poultry enterprises

have perked up.

Simon Wragg reports

A BLANKET of swirling fog and darkness engulfed Cansdale during our recent visit.

Owner John Sleightholme was anxiously awaiting a delivery of chicks for the 30,000-bird broiler unit.

"It is over an hour late. There has been a hold-up near Driffield and the fog is not helping. We will need to get the chicks inside and tipped swiftly. A good tip can make or break a broiler crop."

Once on site, and with heater fans bringing indoor temperature to 31C, staff laid out trays of chicks.

"The last broiler crop did extremely well. Mortality was down at 2.2% from almost 6% in the previous crop. Feed conversion was also better at 1.86:1. In all, it left a margin of just over £5800."

Broiler income has been consistent in recent months, unlike the pigs. "In retrospect it would have been better to build more poultry sheds instead of expanding by 1000 sows in the late 1990s," he reflects.

At least some progress has been made on the pig units. "The team has really mucked in. We are all getting used to our new duties after the recent staff departures."

One significant step taking some pressure off daily chores has been to move 2000 growers to a new contract rearing unit near Kirkbymoorside, North Yorks.

"We have opted for a joint venture where we supply 25kg weaners valued at £26 a head. The finisher takes them through to 74kg deadweight, covering all costs including feed, labour, housing and haulage.

"After abattoir deductions income is divided 50:50. Effectively we are splitting the risk and capital outlay, which makes sense when pig margins are tight."

That takes some pressure off farm cash flow. Since pig-wasting disease PMWS struck units at Westfield and Cansdale, piglet numbers passing into the grower stage have fallen.

Mr Sleightholmes mother, Elizabeth, calculates the average number of finishers sold fell from 1867 in September to 1226 in November. Allowing for an average carcass value of £70.33, that has cost the business over £45,000.

"At least prices have made some recovery. Top grade pigs sent to Malton Bacon via Cranswick Country Foods have made £1.10/kg deadweight.

"We have also sent 50 cull sows away for export at 50p/kg deadweight and a further 40 into the domestic market at 30p/kg. It has created space in the sow housing, which is welcome."

A review of breeding is underway as variation in gilt types has become apparent. "We used semen from our own boar stud at the height of foot-and-mouth to improve biosecurity, but, like other breeders, we have inadvertently bred back down the dam line.

"Consequently, at Cansdale there is too much Large White in the sow population. With ACMC – a new breeder – launching its services in the New Year, I am looking at its use of Meisham genes on the maternal side."

On the arable side, just over 300t of Malacca milling wheat has been sold at £89/t, and 40t of Equinox wheat made £79/t for seed. Quality for both varieties was described as fair.

"It was a pleasing result at the time. Prices have risen marginally, but we could not afford to hold out in the hope of a stronger market. I believe we may see prices fall given cheap supplies of flour, if not grain, coming in from mainland Europe."

Negotiations on next years arable contract are almost complete. "We have discussed selling potatoes straight from the field but prices of £80/t did not stack up compared with recent returns of £130/t for supplies sold for crisping out of store. We hope to be able to use JSRs experience and continue with that."

A Christmas dinner is being laid on at a local pub for the farm staff. "It will be our way of saying thank you to all of them after this years struggle. But I think I will take my leave after the dinner and allow them to let their hair down. They deserve it," says Mr Sleightholme. &#42

Val Hannah helps prepare chicks entering the 30,000-bird broiler house at Cansdale after a fog-delayed delivery. A good start can boost a broiler crops potential, says John Sleightholme.

&#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.