Pig Farmer Award shortlist: David & Sue Morgan

Crippling feed costs and low prices may make life tough in pig production but the three Pig Farmer of the Year finalists are more than making up for it with their trailblazing practices and superb stockmanship. Jane King reports

David and Sue Morgan

Pockthorpe Hall, Yorkshire

There are many highly motivated farming families in the UK, but few have thrived as well as the Morgans at Pockthorpe, Driffield. This family has been running a Sainsbury’s concept farm for several years, but is now pioneering freedom farrowing.

David and Sue Morgan had no previous pig-breeding experience before they bought the enterprise in 1996 after a contract farming agreement came to an end. Their success is down to investing well, innovating and keeping a close eye on the finances.

One of their greatest achievements has been to get all three daughters, Vicky, 34, Rachel 32 and Kate, 30, excited about indoor pig production and to actively involve them in driving the business forward. They each have distinct roles and now David and Sue are in the enviable position of having three extremely capable young women to hand the business on to when they eventually retire.

Vicky, who runs the breeding unit, came on to the farm 10 years ago after a degree at Harper Adams. Kate, who manages the contract finishers, joined five years ago, and Rachel works part-time, mainly on the accounts with Sue.

The farm originally was just 20ha, plus buildings, but no pigs. David enlisted help to turn the site into an 800-sow breeding business selling all the piglets at weaning. He started using an all-in and all-out production system, installed electronic sow feeders in a large straw yard and fed the sows all liquid co-products. The genetics came from local breeding company JSR, who today still buys all their gilts.

The herd was expanded to 1,000 when they decided to take on the finishing side 12 years ago and formed the business, Pockmor. They maintained the off-site weaning policy and all their weaners leave weekly and go to third-party straw yard sites, where they are on a bed-and-breakfast basis. Individual growers supply the building, straw, water and energy and manage the pigs day to day, while the Morgans supply the feed, vet support and labour.

The growers are paid on a per pig reared arrangement and Kate works hard to improve relationships with the finishers by providing feedback on performance figures.

They used to have five dynamic sow groups but have moved to individual weekly groups that remain stable from service right through to farrowing. This increased the herd size and invested in freedom farrowing with a view to sharing best practice once all results are analysed.

The Morgans are passionate about enhancing animal welfare while remaining competitive and David is frank about difficulties faced at the beginning of the project. The biggest challenge was to develop an alternative to the traditional farrowing crate and, after a lot of research, they designed new pens to provide more pig space without jeopardising safety.

“Freedom farrowing has allowed us to focus more and it has made us much better stockmen. It is the future. These days there is so much more attention to detail,” says David.

Efficiency is key and so in 2008 they bought a feed mill in Scarborough for milling all their own finisher diets. Other investments include a 50kW wind turbine, 100kW solar panels and the purchase of a small arable farm with 56ha a few miles away, which is currently contracted out.

The Morgans are members of the Young NPA, attending BPEX meetings, speaking at Sainsbury’s producer conferences and writing for the local newspaper.

Learning from others, such as the Danes and Swedes, has been crucial to the growth of their business. David adds: “I’m grateful that I was well trained at Bibbys by Raymond Twiddle. He was the most inspiring guy, so motivated about controlling costs and I have a lot to thank him for.”

A word from our sponsors

vion-logo“Vion is proud to sponsor the Pig Farmer of the Year. Our business is farmer-owned and we have extensive farming interests across the UK. Farming excellence has never been more important, and VION is delighted to support this prestigious award that recognises outstanding achievement in the sector.”

Barry Lock, VION UK pork agriculture director

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Meet the other 2012 finalists

Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details of how to book tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash.

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