When I started working with pigs in the 1980s, most pig arks were basic constructions made from wood and steel.
“Eight-by-four” plywood sheets and angle iron formed the rudimentary structure for both dry sow and farrowing accommodation.
This was undoubtedly a legacy of the “pig cycle” and the boom-to-bust pig prices it created.
Producers would go in and out of pig production – during the lows equipment would be scrapped, or at best stored on headlands in the hope of better times returning.
These old arks required constant maintenance to keep them draft-free and watertight. This was a time-consuming and costly task that many farms struggled to keep up with.
Thankfully, things are very different today. That low-input/low-output mentality has all but gone and outdoor pig equipment specification and quality has improved enormously.
Sectional steel and wood are increasingly being replaced by moulded polyethylene – a robust plastic material that is hygienic, stock-friendly and recyclable.
We already have a wide range of items made from polyethylene on our pig units.
In a translucent state it is ideal for feed hoppers, or for water tanks it can be coloured black to prevent sunlight turning drinking water green.
Our best farrowing arks are a double-skinned polyethylene construction, and the 50mm cavity contains high-grade foam insulation.
This improved insulation has allowed huts to be made larger without fear of the sow not being able to keep herself, and her litter, warm in winter.
We are currently trialling new extra-large huts with a massive 4.7sq m of floor area and all the early signs are very positive.
I can see huge potential for these extra-large huts, especially where extra room is beneficial – for example, for older-parity sows, and in the organic sector, where weaning ages are higher.
Agriculture might be one of the oldest industries in the world, but these new products are yet more examples of the endless potential for improvement and innovation.
Rob manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk.