Farmer Focus: Shuffle fostering makes room for piglet boom

If New Year is the time for reflection then spring is definitely a time for renewal, and with that comes optimism, making this my favourite time of year.

Not surprisingly, it’s also proving to be a busy time with several new farm projects under way.

First, we have been working with a prototype straw shredder which we hope will produce a better-quality bed inside our arks, especially in the farrowing area.

Straw costs are rising and the quantities being made available to us annually are falling, so ensuring we make the most of our bedding is essential.

See also: Expert tips on reducing heat stress in pigs

Unlike most other shredders, this one delivers the straw using sprung fingers that gently flick the straw off a sideways-mounted moving bed. The guts of the machine, where the bale is ripped apart, are housed up inside and away from our livestock, which is definitely a feature I like. 

The second big development has been the creation of purpose-built shuffle foster pens. We have used modern insulated plastic farrowing arks and attached large piglet-proof hurdles to create a 12 sq m run.

Litter sizes are getting bigger, so it’s essential we can move surplus piglets off any overloaded sows and on to foster mothers.

By carefully selecting lactating sows that otherwise would have been culled, we wean their piglets at three weeks of age and replace the litters with younger litters. This creates the extra rearing capacity we need to shuffle foster.

The system only works when it’s done with a high level of care and attention, so providing good fit-for-purpose equipment is only the start. Our stockmen are doing a great job of the rest.

It’s very important that the pen is piglet proof and that it can all be kept hygienic with effective washing carried out between each occupation.

The sow feeding station is an 80kg capacity ad-lib farrow feeder that gives us the option to use it as a manual drop feeder when required.

It’s coupled to a water tank that both the sow and piglets can drink from – it’s all working very nicely so far.


Rob manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk.