21 July 1995

Out go Easton dry sows to keep costs minimal

Dry sows at Easton Lodge will spend most of their time outdoors once the sow stall ban comes into effect.

Sue Rider reports on other impending changes at FARMERS WEEKLYS farm.

SOWS at FARMERS WEEKLYs Easton Lodge pig unit, Stamford, Lincs, will be run outside for most of their dry period after the stall ban takes effect in 1998.

Farms manager, John Lambkin finds it difficult to justify a new dry sow house financially when existing buildings could be converted and there is land available to move pigs outdoors.

Any investment would be better spent in new finishing accommodation, he says. This would enable the unit to take pigs to a heavier 77kg carcass weight and lower break-even price a kg.

To keep sow stall conversion costs to a minimum the plan is to convert existing stalls to cubicle housing. This will accommodate half the number of dry sows, aiding management post service and pre-farrowing. Sows would then go outside for the middle part of their gestation period, says John Lambkin.

Converted Arcon buildings currently provide dry sow housing for 218 sows. Two rows of stalls run the length of the buildings.

"Each sow is fed individually, which is one of the beauties of the system," says pig unit manager, Jasper Renold, although he acknowledges possible welfare benefits of outdoor or yarded systems.

The conversion to cubicle housing will see one row of slatted stalls replaced with a solid floor and straw-bedded pens split to house sows in groups of five. Jasper doesnt envisage having to use too much bedding straw because the buildings are so well insulated.

Each sow will gain access to , and be confined in, her own stall just at feeding time when the pens will be tractor-scraped. "Individual feeding is important to meet each sows needs precisely," says Jasper.

The converted cubicle house will provide accommodation for each sow during the critical three to six weeks after service, to pregnancy diagnose the sows and confirm them in-pig.

Dry sows will then return to the cubicle house for the final four weeks of pregnancy. During this time she will be vaccinated. Feed will be increased two weeks before farrowing from about 2.25kg a sow a day to 3kg a sow a day, depending on condition.

Sows will spend seven weeks mid-pregnancy outside. The move outdoors demands a change in breeding stock.

"Our Landrace x Large White sows are not suited for outdoors," says Jasper. He will replace them with Cotswold Gold outdoor gilts from an enzootic pneumonia positive herd so that by 1998 most of the breeding herd will be geared to spending part of its life outdoors.

He hopes the improved muscle tone of the outdoor-managed sows will boost fitness and farrowing efficiency. The robust tri-bred sow may also produce better litter sizes. But outdoor life could increase feed consumption by 0.1t a sow a year.

He estimates it will cost £10,000 to convert the existing stall house into cubicle accommodation.

The figure takes no account of farm labour but includes materials, gates, concrete and hired labour. In addition the move outdoors will involve the purchase of dry sow huts, water and fencing, and an extra tractor and trailer, requiring a total capital investment of £19,200.

At 10% interest, and with the investment written off over five years, the business is left a charge of £5070 a year.

Additional variable costs of rent, labour, extra sow feed and straw bring the total extra cost to £12,065 a year for the first five years, or £33,33 a productive sow given there are 361 on the unit.

Easton Lodge arable unit will charge the pig unit £240/ha (£100/acre) rent on the 5.6ha (14 acres) of land needed to stock 110 sows outside at 20/ha (8/acre).

"We will grass down set-aside and turn the sows on to it from September," says John.

"The soils at Easton Lodge are naturally well-drained clay loams overlying limestone but sufficiently well-textured to require stocking rates to be watched closely.

"We will choose fields where soil depths are on the shallow side," he says. Fields will also be selected for shelter from prevailing winds and access to water and power.

Three full-time staff currently run the pig unit including Jasper and one part-time student who will be full-time after the ban.

"We will save time on slurrying but there will be solid muck to deal with in its place and the move outdoors will require more labour."

He admits it would be cheaper to put all the sows outdoors but that decision would bring management difficulties.

Cost of converting dry sow stalls to cubicle housing and moving sows outdoors for part of the dry period

110 sows outside at 20/ha (8/acre) needs 5.6ha (14 acres) land


Dry sow huts at eight sows a hut = 14 huts at £200 apiece2,800

Water and fencing at £100/acre1,400

Tractor and equipment5,000

Cost of conversion of stall house10,000


10% interest over five years5,070

Rent of set-aside land at £240/ha (£100/acre)1,400

Extra labour3,000

Extra sow feed at 0.1t a sow a year x 110 sows x £145/t1,595

Extra straw 2000 bales a year at 50t at £25/t1000

Total extra annual cost12,065

Cost a productive sow a year33.42

Easton Lodge breeding herd performance compared with MLC top-third (year-ended May 31, 1995)

Easton LodgeMLC top-third

Herd structure

Ave no sows and gilts in herd441266

Ave no unserved gilts8051

Ave no productive sows361245

Sow performance factors

Percentage breeding sow replacements3446

Percentage breeding sow deaths6.14.3

Recorded services: Farrowings (%)79.9*97.3

Non-productive days27*19

Ave no litters a sow and served gilt a year2.33*2.40

Ave no pigs reared a sow and gilt a year21.224.3

Qty of sow and boar feed a sow and gilt a year (t)1.171.28

Cost a tonne of sow and boar feed (£)142.57146.67

Litter performance factors

Ave no pigs born a litter:





Ave no pigs reared a litter9.0610.09

Pig performance factors

% mortality of pigs born alive12.811.2

Total feed cost a pig reared (£)9.738.56

Ave weight of pigs weaned (kg)7.06.3

Ave weaning age (days)2423

*Lagged data.

Existing sow stall accommodation at Easton Lodge will be converted to cubicle housing, says unit manager Jasper Renold.