26 June 1998

Lower cost design is a healthy alternative

Cheap housing has found

favour with one Notts

producer with an improvement

in pig performance.

Simon Wragg reports

CONVERTING a tractor shed to grower accommodation has meant a move away from controlled environment housing on one Notts unit, resulting in better feed use and lower fixed costs a pig place.

When Stuart Poole needed extra accommodation for rearer pigs at his 101ha (250-acre) Hopyard Farm, Southwell – which he farms in partnership with brother, Ken – a redundant 3m x 6m (15ft x 30 ft) tractor shed was converted into a deep litter straw yard.

Compared with pigs finished from 30-90kg liveweight in a new CEH costing £94 a pig place, pigs in the tractor shed did so well that Mr Poole decided to look for a cheaper, alternative housing design.

"Growth rates in the controlled environment house were not as good as we had hoped and we began to see disease problems such as pneumonia emerge," says Mr Poole. Feed conversion performance was poor, achieving just 3.1:1 compared with the top third of MLC recorded herds at 2.9:1.

The simplicity and performance of the tractor shed led to the first mono-pitch rearing house with kennel-style accommodation being erected in 1994 for the herds expansion from finishing 3000 pigs each year to 4500.

Using his welding skills and contracting out the block work meant the rearing house was completed for £48 a pig place, using farm labour. A commercial building costed out at £106/m sq would have cost £85 a pig place, he suggests.

Pigs between 30-65kg liveweight in the deep litter yards incorporating kennel housing achieve weight gains of 650g a day a pig – higher than that of pigs at the same weight in the CEH, reckons Mr Poole.

However, greater care needs to be taken in managing a manually controlled house to ensure optimum growth and feed use, as Signet consultant Dan Morgan explains.

"In this type of building piglets are susceptible to cold. Kennel lids have been fitted to the back wall of the building and either bales or plastic flaps used to form a temporary wall across the opening.

"Pneumonia has been a problem. But increasing the pitch of the kennel lids and increasing the airflow and ventilation around the building is helping control disease," says Mr Morgan. Use of flaps and bales remains flexible depending on the weather.

In the summer months, sections of Yorkshire boarding are removed to improve airflow. Compared with forced ventilation, this arrangement keeps building costs down, but increases the need for stockman to be vigilant to ensure pigs are comfortable, adds Mr Morgan. Kennels cover about 40% of the strawed area, allowing pigs the choice of lying inside or out. This, says Mr Poole, goes some way to compensating for not having automatic air vents to control temperature within the house.

"It allows pigs the flexibility to lie where they are comfortable, particularly at night when stockmen are not about," he says.

A second mono-pitch building has just been completed, taking pigs from 15-50kg liveweight at a cost of £50.40 a pig place (a commercial building would cost £59 a pig place).

Incorporating the lessons learnt about kennel design, overall performance of the unit has improved consistently over the past eight years.

In 1990 feed conversion ratio achieved was 2.8:1 overall for pigs between 7-83kg liveweight. By 1991 that had improved to 2.61:1 and todays figures suggest a ratio of 2.41:1 for pigs between 7-91kg liveweight.

"That improvement alone is a saving of £2.40 a finished pig at a current feed price of £142/t excluding mill and mixing costs," says Mr Morgan.

Increasing throughput and the building of additional yards has cut the time pigs spend finishing in the CEH, says Mr Poole, who believes that has helped improve the units performance by reducing disease, particularly pneumonia.

Financially, the mono-pitch straw yards has helped expansion continue in a depressed market for finished pigs, adds Mr Poole. "Certainly, a straw-based house was acceptable to the Environment Agency, particularly on this farm, as we are low lying and have a high water table.

"I am convinced now that the only way to have a future finishing pigs is to keep overheads down – and that does mean having cheaper buildings," he says. &#42

Cost of the new housing was £28,000, explains producer Stuart Poole (left), who designed it with Signets Dan Morgan (right).

Piglet performance in the mono-pitch rearing house can be excellent if management is right, according to Signets Dan Morgan.

PIG HOUSING

&#8226 Cheaper option.

&#8226 Healthier pigs.

&#8226 Better performance.