Farmer Focus: Lots of change in the past six years

OK, so it is just under six years since I last wrote an article for Farmers Weekly. What has happened since then?

Something I wrote about at length was our ageing pig-finishing unit. After much deliberation and with a supportive bank, we knocked it down in January 2016 and, by that September, we had a very efficient ARM slatted wean-to-finish pig unit.

The project was not without its budget overruns and technical problems, but now the teething problems have been ironed out, it is performing very well.

We are growing pigs using less of everything: feed, antibiotics, labour and power as we get 50kW of solar electricity from the roof.

By doing this we freed-up space so we put in more farrowing and improved our dry sow accommodation. This means we now wean our piglets when they are five weeks old not four.  

See also: Read case studies on pig farming in our Know How centre

This has increased weaning weight from about 7.5kg to 10.5kg a pig, meaning  liveweights at the time of sale has gone up by approximately 10kg.

We are now selling 4,000kg more pigmeat a week than we were before the new unit was built, with the same amount of sows and less labour.

On the hog roast and catering side of the business, things have grown as well. As well as corporate events, we are the in-house caterers at a local horse arena, we still trade with our catering kiosks at Mole Valley Farmers and have added to it with a catering van on Dartmoor National Park.

Next month we are shutting the farm shop. It has been open now for nearly 19 years, during which time the takings have stayed steady but not spectacular.

We are located about a mile from a very busy A-road, but really we need to be next to it to be successful.

We are considering reopening at a different location on the farm, planning permission allowing, if a new part of the National Cycle Trail proves a success, as it will not be on our farm but very close.

Lastly, the biggest change over the past six years, is the challenge to the way we feed ourselves now and in the future.

As an industry I think we all must promote a balanced diet, and always be the best we can be in our sector, so as not to give anyone the chance to do our industry down.

Andrew Freemantle runs 340 sows producing over 10,000 pigs per year at Kenniford Farm near Exeter, Devon. Two-thirds of the pigs go to Tulip and the other third are sold independently and go through the farm’s retail and catering businesses.