Farmer Focus: Plastic arks cut straw use and improve pig welfare 

As this is my first Farmer Focus article, I will start with a quick introduction to the farm business and my role within it.

LSB Pigs is a Norfolk-based outdoor breeding operation that produces 28-day-old weaners in a three-week batch system.

Our adult herd totals 1,550 sows and this is split between two sites: Coxford is the largest, with just over 1,000 sows (there has been an LSB herd at Coxford for almost 30 years), and High House is home to 500 sows.

A low annual rainfall of less than 700mm and nutrient-hungry, light soils make this area of East Anglia ideal for outdoor pigs. It was this combination that brought me (and my then young family) to the area 26 years ago.

See also: 10 ways to cut water pollution on an outdoor pig unit

Soon after, in 1995, I joined the management team at LSB Pigs. At the time it was a very traditionally run weekly farrowing herd of just 750 sows – how times change.

As the farm’s manager I am responsible for all things production-related, including staff organisation, future planning, trials, veterinary and assurance scheme compliance, and the recording of the farm’s physical performance – not to mention the never-ending list of things to order in and book out.

Any remaining time is spent on the field working with the animals. While this occurs less often than I would like these days, I had a good opportunity not long ago.

The assistant manager at Coxford was on holiday and we got our first spell of really wintry weather – daytime temperatures below zero plus an unwelcome dusting of snow.

Working with the farrowing team, I quickly noticed how dramatically better the environment was inside our recently purchased plastic farrowing arks when compared with the older steel-roofed arks. 

The plastic arks are fully insulated, so no condensation occurs inside. This means the straw beds stay dry and warm and in turn that reduces the need for additional straw after farrowing.

This is all good news for the piglets, providing them with a much better place to be when the Norfolk winds blow. I think I’ll be pushing for a few more.

Rob manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk.