Security is the name of the game for Norfolk pig farmer Rob Mutimer. Whether its protection against shifting meat markets, feed prices or even herd health, he has taken every effort limit the variables within his herd.
Woodlands Farm is a mixed family enterprise spread over 566ha with 400 North Country Mules, an arable enterprise and a recently expanded 600-sow outdoor pig unit. Up and running since 1973, the pig unit has principally had a stable supply chain, supplying BQP with weaners since the late 1980s.
Latterly most pigs have been finished on site, gearing production to supply Waitrose through Dalehead Foods on the Stabilised Link Contract, of which Rob was a founding member of the Link steering committee.
Communication in the supply chain is often said to be lacking, but for Rob the opposite is true. Working collaboratively within the Waitrose supply chain gives him a fair return on investment.
“The contract offers security and while many producers take the ups with the downs, we can steadily ride out the pig cycles. Admittedly some control of the business is handed over with breed, feed and some production methods standardised under the contract, but this isn’t a problem for us,” he says.
The security has allowed expansion from 300-600 sows, with efficiency paramount to success. “Our aim is to produce more pigs from less feed and the core of any business still has to be efficiency.”
But expansion in the herd isn’t the only area growing in this business; Rob also plans to expand his farm shop and butchery, Swannington Farm to Fork. Seeing an annual growth of 23.7% this year alone, he is planning to open another joint venture retail outlet later this autumn.
Already the Swannington Farm to Fork logo features on 26 different menus in the Norwich area, with 10-12 pigs sold through the butchery each week. Currently 20% is sold retail going through the farm butchery and 80% to 36 catering establishments within a 25-mile radius of the farm.
Whether it’s the pigs and sheep from the farm or locally reared beef sold in the shop, they are all marketed as high welfare and low food mileage.
And high welfare, environmentally friendly reared pigs is certainly what Rob is producing on the three-weekly batch farrowing system. Every sow receives individual attention despite it taking considerably more time.
Uniquely, the outdoor farrowed Landrace x Duroc sows are fed in individual feeders to avoid wastage, with feed usage only 1.32t a sow a year. Outdoor paddocks are also grassed to prevent runoff and also retain nutrients and are on a four-year reseeding plan.
“Land is a valuable asset, which is why we try to preserve it. Piglet mortality has also decreased because fields are more level.
“Feeding 350 sows by hand every day is time consuming, but it allows us to assess the pigs, even if this is a labour expensive way of doing things.”
But attention to detail pays off in consistent herd performance at 22.8 pigs weaned a sow a year, and a farrowing index of 2.32 litters a sow a year and pigs. Also as the farm implements a 30% replacement policy every second parity, few poorly producing animals are kept.
Pigs are weaned and split into sexed groups at 28 days old and are moved to outdoor kennels, where they remain until 35kg. Pigs are then moved to a separate finishing site where they are finished indoors on straw. Mortality at this stage is only 2.5%, with mortality even lower at finishing at 2%.
But the 11 staff members working at Woodlands Farm are vital to its survival, says Rob. “The staff are fundamental to the survival of this business and where possible we try to employ young, local staff, training often from scratch, as we hope this will generate us a stable and progressive workforce,” he says.
What the judges liked
- “Rob has moved the pig business on to another scale and in doing so has built the arable/livestock rotation in such a way the environment of the whole farm benefits.”
- Secure supply contract
- Growing farm shop brand
- Farming in an environmentally sensitive way
- 566ha spread over three sites
- 600 sow outdoor unit
- Breeding output 22.8 pigs weaned a sow a year
- Farm shop and also marketing local restaurants