Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Pig Farmer of the Year

Michael and Ian Baker are the 2019 Farmers Weekly Pig Farmers of the Year.

The excellent management of North Farm Livestock throughout every part of the farming enterprise is a winning formula for running a high-health, high-welfare pig system with production figures envied by many indoor producers.

Owned by brothers Michael and Ian Baker, the 763ha part-owned, part-tenanted farm has 3,200 sows spread across three breeding herds, as well as 15 finishing sites producing 1,800 pigs a week. These are sold at 105kg to Tulip, mainly for Waitrose.

See also: 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards: Pig Farmer of the Year finalists

Michael and Ian Baker in a field with pigs

Michael and Ian Baker © Tim Scrivener

Michael and Ian Baker 

North Farm Livestock, Breck Farm, Holt, Norfolk

Farm facts

  • Produces 1,800 finished pigs a week for Tulip, set to increase to 2,500
  • 3,200 sows across three breeding sites, set to increase to five breeding sites
  • 38-strong team
  • Land rented from 15 landlords, with some strong relationships

Staff
There’s no doubt the high health status and production of this herd wouldn’t be where it is without the attention to detail from the 38-strong team.

Ian’s background as national head of agri-food for Barclays and Michael’s knowledge of pigs make them the perfect management duo. They have dedicated department heads and deputy managers running the breeding, finishing and logistics teams.

And it’s no wonder this professional business has only had to advertise once for staff in the past fifteen years, considering the career prospects, additional benefits and good working conditions – for example, only having to work one in every three weekends.

Just a few years ago, a profit-share scheme was introduced to replace the Christmas bonus. About 10% of the yearly profits are now split between the staff and the amount they receive is dependent on the time they have worked on the farm, their role and salary. Michael and Ian also hold team away days.

The excellent management goes beyond the teams at North Farm Livestock, with Ian and Michael building good long-term relationships with their 15 landlords. This is crucial when farming in an area where competition for land is high.

Production
The linchpin for keeping herd health high comes down to running single-parity breeding groups. This means after their sixth parity, all sows are culled, followed by a full depopulation and repopulation.

The effort of running single-parity breeding groups pays off, as most pigs leave the farm without ever being treated with antibiotics.

Antibiotics use has been cut to 4mg/kg. The business also has below-average pre-weaning mortality figures of 8.5% and 3.17% in the finishing herd. Pigs have solid growth rates averaging 824g a day.

Low stress levels across both the breeding and finishing herds also aid herd health. The dedicated gilt-mating units are set out the same as the breeding herd – in paddocks – which means when gilts are moved on to one of the breeding units, there is no major change.

The good management is evident in the breeding success, with 12.43 piglets born a litter and 26.7 piglets weaned a sow a year, on average.

Stocking densities are low on the finishing sites at 50sq m a pig, compared with the RSPCA minimum standard of 12sq m a pig. The Bakers leave a space between each finishing paddock, which limits contact between batches of pigs, improves biosecurity and helps cut antibiotics use. They have also taken on extra land that houses no pigs, to create a barrier between herds.

The future
The Bakers are not happy resting on their laurels, with finishing numbers set to increase to 2,500 pigs a week and breeding animals growing to five herds as the number of gilts increase.  

Although in the early stages, the brothers are thrashing out ideas for diversifying the business.

Options include leisure activities such as high-end glamping or accommodation, or possibly a vineyard. 

A word from our independent judge

 “The team approach at North Farm Livestock is central to the success of this high-welfare, free-range pig operation. Ian and Michael complement each other in their abilities and run a pig enterprise that has production figures envied by many indoor producers.”

Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association

The 2019 Farmers Weekly Pig Farmer of the Year is sponsored by NSF International

The finalists were:

  • Lee and Geraldine Chafer 
    Grange Farm, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
  • Gary Young 
    Castlederg, County Tyrone