Farmer Focus: How we doubled our sow herd

By way of introduction, October 2017 marked the beginning of the “job for life”, when I came back home to work full-time on the family farm.

At that point we had three full-time stockmen, plus my father, on the 270-sow farrow-to-finish indoor pig unit and two people full-time on the 260ha (642 acre) combinable crop enterprise, including my father’s cousin who a business partner. 

We were running with high labour costs on both enterprises, which made it tricky for me to come back and take ownership of a part of the business.

See also: 5 tips for improving herd retention rates

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Jack Bosworth
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We then bought my cousin’s share in the business and tried to increase turnover and produce a sustainable business plan lenders could buy into.

We have since doubled the sow herd to 540, got a bed-and-breakfast arrangement to house 150 pigs a week in Norfolk from 40 days to finishing, brought nearly all arable operations in-house (except for mole ploughing) and introduced other income streams via straw sales, Countryside Stewardship and contracting.

We invested about £1 million in a new breeding facility, which we needed to double the herd.

The original dry sow accommodation and service area was still giving fantastic performance, but it was getting rather tired, and we pretty soon identified that it was an area that held a lot of responsibility for high labour costs.

Investment in breeding herd accommodation was the priority and it made perfect sense to use the “blank canvas” as an opportunity to increase the numbers, which in turn would increase sales.

In 2018 a new breeding facility was built by Quality Equipment. It includes 60 farrowing places (next door to the existing 60), a purpose-built service house, gilt housing, electronic sow feeding (ESF) training area and up to 440 dry sow places (2 x 220 sow houses with dynamic groups sorted by age and size) with ESF, heat detection and a marking/separation unit.

The building is slatted except for solid laying areas within the dry sow houses.

We mill and mix home-grown cereal. At home this is powered by a 100kW solar unit.

Around 30% of our annual slurry is spread in the autumn on stubbles prior to oilseed rape establishment and the rest goes on to winter wheat in the spring.