Farmer Focus Livestock: Chris Fodgen tweaks routines

Chris Fogden farms 950 sows on 44ha (110 acres) of rented land near Thetford, Norfolk. He finishes all his own pigs on contracted farms and sells on a stabilised contract

Pigs are getting an unjustifiably bad press at the moment, with references to “snouts in the trough” and the inaccurately named “swine flu“. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest risk to my new high-health pig herd is catching flu from the public.

Having five weeks farrowing of the new herd under our belt, numbers of liveborn per litter have hovered about 10.8 and the first weaning averaged 10 a litter from 30 gilts weaned. This is half a pig a litter ahead of what some considered my unrealistic budgeted figure.

Owing to the natural, unsupervised mating system used at the gilt mating unit, we have no accurate indication as to farrowing date, so we have to rely on a good pair of eyes and regular draws off to the farrowing paddocks. This is the first time we have had 100% single-farrowing paddocks and they are working well.

To keep similar aged litters tightly together, a key task is to make sure any gilts falling out of line are moved into different paddocks. This is done via a homemade “pig taxi” mounted on a front loader. As the taxi can be dropped over the wire, the tractor does not have to enter the paddock to pick up or drop off the gilt, making the job fast and easy.

Apart from feeding time, the farrowing area requires little attention and it’s a pleasure not having to worry about gilts doubling up and abandoning litters, which can happen in a group system.

Initially, I planned feeding the farrowing paddocks by hand, but this has been shelved, as it was taking too long. The nut thrower, fitted with a pipe to limit spread, is now being used on all but the farrowing group and those a week older, where the close attention from hand feeding works better.

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