Farmer Focus: Cutting pig numbers brings sadness and opportunity

We now have only 50% of our sows remaining, leaving 190. We are farrowing our first reduced batch as I write. 

In many ways it feels desperately sad, but in others it’s a relief and an exciting opportunity to focus on performance, staff, the buildings and possibly some other market opportunities.

We’ve seen some cracking performance (for us) from our last two full batches in the farrowing house.

See also: Pig crisis: Wasted backlog pork could have fed millions 

About the author

Sophie Hope
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Sophie Hope, Cheltenham, farms 380 sows indoors from farrow to finish, producing 10,000 pigs a year direct to Tesco, as well as 81,000 broiler-breeders. A straw-based system is currently in place with boars from composite commercial lines and some Hampshire used for hardiness.
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Our sows served to the JSR Tempo boar averaged 15.9 born alive, and the criss-cross sows (the progeny from our new genetic programme) served to Topigs Landrace averaged 17.1. 

We’ve weaned an average of 13.9 piglets across 90 sows at a weight of 7.7kg (litter weight 106.5kg). This follows a spate of fairly poor sub-7kg weaning weights. 

I put this improvement down to a combination of sireline genetics, the damline genetic programme coming into full effect, a change of management practices in the farrowing house and, hopefully, a desire (and need) to really get the best results from our system to survive.

I’d like to think this performance should only improve further, given that we have kept the best sows, and staff can be more focused. 

On the finishing side, we have been seeing some good weights, but this is mainly a result of taking pigs older because of the struggles in processing. 

For us, this hasn’t been too detrimental in terms of overweight pigs, but it has caused a lot of problems logistically. The average daily gain on some loads has been close to 900g/day from weaning, which I’m pleased with, but for their age I’d have expected it to be higher. 

I’m sure growth rates have been compromised somewhat by shuffling them about to make use of limited space.

We say goodbye to our last full batch of finishers in August. Our first half-batch enters the system in four weeks’ time. 

I’m really excited to see how they grow given extra space.

These improvements in performance have been a much-needed morale boost, but then there’s the subsequent punch in the gut knowing that we are not being rewarded for it financially. Let’s just hope it’s enough to keep us afloat and we come out on top in a couple of years’ time.