FARMER FOCUS: Climate challenges pig growth rates

Well spring is finally here. The difference in staff morale is amazing when that yellow thing in the sky makes an appearance. And the pigs have decided they are sunflowers and are growing at the rate of knots.

Unfortunately, they’re growing like teenage boys in that they are shooting upwards but not outwards, and the probe we’re getting on our pigs is lacking a few millimetres.

We get this sort of variance at different stages of the year. This is one of the downsides to free-range pig farming in that we cannot control the climate, which has an obvious affect on the pig’s appetite and the amount of exercise they do.

The probe on our carcasses varies seasonally and even the actual shape of the carcass. I remember back to when we had our finishing unit up at Easingwold on the hills, where our pigs were more exposed to the elements and the land wasn’t quite as free-draining as this land.

When we moved to our current site, which is lower down and on incredibly light land, feeding the pigs on exactly the same diet, the difference in the shape of pigs from the two sites is just phenomenal.

The probes on this first batch of pigs to go to the abattoir from our current site were in the high 20s (compared with our normal average of 12mm). The shape in comparison to our pigs from Easingwold was akin to a stocky young Belgian blue steer next to a dairy cow.

So, it takes some playing around with feed at different times of year to get that balance right and keep the product consistent. I’m a big believer in being proactive rather than reactive, but what chance have I got with weather as unpredictable as that of good old England?

Anna Longthorp runs Anna’s Happy Trotters, a pork wholesale business supplying butchers, restaurants and farm shops with free-range pork from her family’s 2,100 breeding sows

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