Farmer Focus: Straw situation is going to be tough

The ups and downs of harvest have left us clutching at straws.

This summer I have been doing quite a lot of trial work with a piglet creep feed station we have been developing. This has meant working outside of the usual hours to spend time observing litters using the feeders and recording daily feed consumption.

Seeing the pigs, and the farm in general, at these different times of day has turned out to be hugely satisfying. Our efforts to operate with a stronger environmental focus appear to be paying off, and the diversity of wildlife around the farm is now greater than ever.

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

Most of our farrowing paddocks have retained a reasonable amount of green cover and the range of insects, amphibians and small mammals present is quite amazing.

As we continue to learn and expand this initiative, the satisfaction of what has already been achieved is really encouraging.

However, not everything this summer has gone quite according to plan. Our straw supply for the next year looks lean, is inconveniently positioned around the farm, and of variable quality.

All of our straw is bought from our landlord. His cropping plan has resulted in much of his cereal fields being several miles from the pigs.

Stacks have been built where the crops were harvested, but these will need to be relocated and re-stacked nearer to the herds, to make life easier come winter.

Straw yields have also been critically low this year due to the dry spring – some wheat fields weren’t even baled due to blackgrass infestations.

Elsewhere couchgrass has taken hold. In the latter case, the impending Storm Francis forced the decision to bale while the moisture content was still quite high.

The plan was to get on and use as much as we could right away, giving the entire unit a good, heavy end-of-summer bedding down.

That got rid of 30 bales, but the same number again remain unused, and are now starting to smell like something you would only feed to hippos at a zoo.

I’m going to have a tough year ahead regarding straw management, that’s for sure.

Rob McGregor manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk. See his biography.