Dennis Bridgeford farms 50ha (125 acres) at Petley Farm in Easter Ross, about 40 miles north of Inverness. The farm comprises of a 480-sow indoor unit producing finished pigs and a further 320 sows are run outdoors, with progeny sold at 7kg.
JANUARY was the driest for years, with only 18mm rain. I must admit it has made the outdoor pig business a bit easier. Straw usage is back compared with last year and life generally has been a bit easier for the staff. However, nature has a great way of levelling things out – February has been wet and windy, but there has been no snow.
We have been in outdoor production since 1993 and have gone through quite a learning curve. We tried to start on a very low cost operation, but soon discovered that low cost didnt last, and landed up with high repair bills. The farrowing huts were a classic example. We made the A-frame type ourselves without problems, using compressed-type sheeting, but this absorbed water and wasnt strong enough. Now we use 18mm sheeting plywood which is stronger and the huts are warmer.
But there is always one part of a unit you are not happy with. We are producing strong healthy pigs that are weighing well off the field, averaging 8.5kg at an average weaning age of 22 days. In the 12 months to January this year we had a farrowing index of 2.39 which is quite acceptable. Our problem seems to lie with total number born being 10.58 and selling 22 pigs a sow a year. I would like to increase the number born to 11, and the number sold a sow a year to 23.
Average feed usage stands at 1.2t a sow a year, but we have increased the level of feed to in-pig gilts, who are definitely on the lean side. There is no doubt that if they get a check at this stage it causes damage to later parities. We have also introduced a specific diet for maiden gilts pre-service.
I managed to get a couple of days away from the farm to visit Agrimek in Denmark. We also managed to fit in a couple of farm visits. One unit in particular gave us plenty to think about. It had 750 sows on stalls and slats, no straw, producing 25 pigs a sow a year to 30kg and employing a staff of three.
Their attitude is that the buyers first priority is price, and the stalls appear to be of little interest to them. Are we going to allow Danish pigmeat to be imported regardless of our legislation?n
Outdoor pigs arent a cheap option, says Dennis Bridgeford. Now the A-frame huts are made using stronger sheeting which is also warmer.