I’m not sure who was the most relieved to see the new straw stock starting to be stacked up on the headlands of our pig fields this month – me or the pigs.
We have certainly run stocks low in the past, but this year, on the day harvest started we didn’t even have enough left to turn around another full batch of farrowing.
We buy 580t of straw from our landlord every year, which sounds colossal, but by strange coincidence this works out pretty much equal to just 1kg a sow a day – easy to remember but hard to visualise in practice.
It’s looking like our cover crop is reducing the amount that gets eaten. This could mean we use straw more efficiently.
Our mechanised spreader adds volume, which helps it go further, and we know a drier atmosphere in the sow housing means straw bedding lasts longer, extending the time between top-ups.
With the first two of these efficiencies in place, our attention has now turned to the environment inside the sow housing.
After successful trials earlier this summer, we have started investing in large moulded polypropylene dry sow arks.
They are double skinned like our farrowing arks, which we know to be pretty much condensation-free (and therefore dry), as well as being warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which the sows will love.
The other advantages over the classic steel and galvanised tin arks is the superior longevity of the structures, as they are rust- and rot-free.
This will avoid sharp edges, which are a major bugbear of the welfare assurance scheme assessors when they visit.
It would be great if we could store all our straw under cover, but sadly only a tiny percentage gets that treatment – the rest is in field stacks which we cover with rolls of PVC sheeting, weighed down with split bales.
It’s a cheap system but not the most straw-efficient. So, when I’m up on top of yet another straw stack tomorrow wrestling with a sea of wild plastic, I will be telling anyone that can hear me what a really great idea barns are.