Farmer Focus: Pigs on grass brings many benefits

August is traditionally when we start the biennial process of moving our herds onto new land.

By the time our pigs have spent two years on a site, it can start to look tired. The fresh start on new fields seems to give the pigs a real lift and, likewise, staff can also feel a boost with the advent of a new chapter in the farm’s life.

However, this upheaval creates a lot of extra work, and at a time of year when daylight hours are shortening fast, good planning and effective execution are essential.

This year we have been able to start the move slightly earlier. That’s because for the first time, all but one of our new fields have a cover crop of established grass and clover in place – not just bare stubble.

See also: How Norfolk pig farmers cut water use by 50%

The field that isn’t in grass has just had a wheat crop harvested from it and has now also been drilled with grass.

We hope we can get some greenery established by the time we make a late move there in November. But it’s a long shot and how successful it will be is very dependent on the next few weeks’ weather.

There are going to be two major design changes for this move. The first is separating our gilts from the main sow herd and giving them a specially designed service tent. The tent will have a radial of 14 paddocks, where they will be housed right up to one week before farrowing.

The hope is that this will improve our stock management during the crucial first pregnancy and subsequently improve future breeding performance.

Our second change is something of an experiment. We are going to build a set of dry sow paddocks in a way that allows half of each paddock’s area to be rested, while the other half is stocked.

This will allow the vegetation to recover well on the rested half before the paddock is flipped. A small reduction in stocking rate is required, but I’m sure the potential environmental benefits are going to make it worthwhile.

Rob manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk.