2010 FW Awards: Pig Farmer of the Year finalist Andrew McCrea

If there’s one man who oozes passion and enthusiasm for his pigs, then Andrew McCrea’s him. His exceptional attention to detail has seen him develop his father’s pig finishing business, once purchasing weaners from multiple sources, to his own 750-sow weaner production unit.

Although he has developed the unit in stages, moving from 250 breeding sows to 750 now, you can tell this isn’t the limit for Andrew, with plans already in place to double numbers to 1500 sows (IPPC permitting).

Now pigs at his indoor farm produce weaners to 35kg which are then moved to four contract finishing farms, which enables an all-in, all-out policy. “I pay the contract farms £6 a pig for anything finished, not for anything that doesn’t make it to slaughter. This means the farm has a reason to finish animals to the best of their ability, which probably results in the low mortality rate of just 1.5% at the finishing stage.”

Andrew supplies meal and medicine to the farms to ensure a consistent diet is fed, with only one farm not wet feeding. The contract farms then supply the staff, pig accommodation and the removal of slurry – which is a huge help for Andrew.

But despite the physical control of finishers being out of Andrew’s hands, he is still very much in control – with stringent records allowing him to keep an eye on performance. “I use an online pig grading system (PIGIS) to assess the quality of our carcasses. I can compare them with the rest of the Northern Ireland pig industry, which helps me produce the best-grading pig for marketing through Progressive Lean Pigs.”

Back on his own farm, Andrew is a bit of a whiz-kid when it comes to technology – he knows exactly what his feeding and ventilation systems are doing no matter where he is in the world, with all the information accessible on his mobile phone.

“I have tried to develop a system by installing a computer network that makes it easier for myself with a young family and my staff,” explains Andrew. “This enables me to control settings from one place and also allows me to oversee things from the office without physically being on the farm.”

However, Andrew isn’t a man to be sat in the office and is very much hands-on, which is why he has incorporated further technology to ease the every day running of the farm. For example, they don’t use sow cards and instead every member of staff has a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA). Every member of staff has access to every sow’s history in his pocket.

“Sow cards were such a chore and we found we were duplicating information when inputting it to the computer, which increased room for errors as well. This is why we have also recently invested in EID technology to avoid duplication and improve accuracy of records and to further ease the workload.”

Attention to detail also means Andrew has a tight control on costs, with key financial indicators calculated. Feed is costed at £60 a pig, vet costs £3.32 a pig; AI fees £1.06 a pig – even down to the telephone at £0.1 a pig, with total cost of production for every pig £81.83. And Andrew is always looking at ways to lower costs. “This is why we mill and mix our own ration; it is cheaper and also means it is consistent.”

Andrew also integrates some aspects of his pig enterprise with his 500-head beef enterprise by using pig slurry instead of artificial fertiliser to spread on land. He is also looking at alterative sources of energy in a drive for lowered costs and is currently seeking advice on wind and well as anaerobic digestion options.

And Andrew’s attention to detail is clearly paying off with the results he is getting, with sows averaging 2.26 litters a sow a year and pigs weaned for every sow a year at 23.9. “My average litter size is only 11.5 which is lower than I would like, but this year we have had some seasonal infertility problems,” he explains.

Being one of four focus farms in Northern Ireland has also benefited Andrew, he claims. “By starting a discussion with other producers I have learned a lot. Pig farmers are so isolated and this has definitely helped me improve.” Andrew’s bonus system which he pays to staff when they hit key targets has also stimulated much discussion about ways to improve so that targets can be met.

Farm Facts
• One breeding unit, four contract finishing farms
• 750 sows producing 18,000 pigs a year
• 11.5 a litter born alive; 23.9 weaned a sow a year

What the judges liked
• First pig Focus Farm in Northern Ireland
• Advanced technology to ease workload and improve accuracy
• Tight control on costs which has allowed further development

• For more on the 2010 Farmers Weekly Awards
• For more on the the 2010 finalists

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