Make technology an ally
The winner of this years MLC National Pig Award is
convinced that embracing technology and being open to new
ideas are crucial for success. Jeremy Hunt reports
MAINTAINING maximum throughput, strict attention to hygiene standards and employing high-calibre staff underpin the success of the 450-sow and finishing enterprise run by Lancashire pig farmer Mark Edwards.
Although hes only been involved in pigs since 1994, hes just won the MLCs National Pig Award 2000.
"From the start I was determined to embrace the latest innovations in pig management. We have a system that uses 100% AI, we batch farrow, run an all-in all-out system and have always placed a lot of emphasis on staff training to ensure high standards of stockmanship.
"This has all contributed to keeping the business afloat throughout the pig crisis. We didnt escape the impact of low prices and faced a trading loss of £63,000 in one year. But despite all the problems we never lost belief in what we were doing," says Mr Edwards.
He farms in partnership with his cousin Simon Edwards who runs the arable acreage that covers the familys two units – Worrall House Farm and Gore House Farm at Downholland, Merseyside.
Mark took over the pig unit following the retirement of the manager six years ago. He hadnt been previously involved in pigs but one of his first decisions was to switch sows from stalls to loose housing.
Now dry sows – Camborough 15 hybrids put to PIC Challenger boars – run in straw pens in batches of seven on a trickle feed system.
"I decided to double the number of sows from the 240 I took over because I was convinced that if we maintained a high standard of management we could increase numbers without more staff – and it has worked," says Mr Edwards.
The breeding sow unit is at Worrall House Farm and is 100% AI. On-farm semen collection has been under way since 1996 and achieves a conception rate of 87% – although Mr Edwards does not consider that figure to be critical.
"I know this may be a controversial issue but Im not unduly concerned about performance figures relating to conception rates and litter size providing we are aware of exactly whats going on in the herd.
"We base throughput of the finishing unit on 36 sows farrowing once a fortnight. Whether I have to serve 36 sows to achieve that or 50 sows is irrelevant to me. So long as I can get my 360 piglets per fortnight Im satisfied.
"Because it isnt a continuous production system and theres a fortnight break in-between I can treat each batch individually."
The unit produces 9000 finished pigs a year reaching 70-72kg deadweight by 140 days.
"Our pigs are fed six different diets between birth and slaughter, and we are pleased with our growth rates. Last week we had a batch of 160 pigs at 83kg by 147 days."
Compound rations are used until pigs begin the eight-week finishing period when a diet based on home-grown wheat and barley is introduced. Average growth rate is 715-720g a day.
Up to 49 sows are served a month to achieve 36 in-pig. Sows are achieving 11.5 pigs born alive and 10.2 pigs reared. Pigs are weaned at 10kg, although some weaners reach 14kg by 28 days.
"We want sows carrying plenty of condition by farrowing so they have laid a foundation for a good milk yield during lactation. By their last week in the farrowing house a sow could be eating 15kg a day of our home-mix ration."
Separate slatted accommodation provides nursery and grower housing for weaners for two four-week periods prior to being moved to the finishing unit.
"Having separate buildings and farm sites has herd health implications and means young pigs only need to be introduced into the finishing unit once a month.
"But whenever we move pigs we wash and disinfect behind them. We have two PTO-driven power washers. Maintaining strict hygiene standards is fundamental to our management," says Mr Edwards.
Pigs move into the mono-pitched slatted finishing houses weighing about 42kg at 13 weeks at a stocking rate of 40/pen. Maintaining maximum throughput of pigs is critical to profitability.
"Our production unit is always running at full capacity. Operating at 60% instead of 100% means ventilation is ineffective, pigs are getting cold, performance is affected and output is lower. Although you have the option to keep pigs longer it isnt workable on a batch system."
The pig unit produces 9000 finished pigs a year, reaching 70-72kg deadweight by 140 days.
The dry sow house – the aim is to have sows in good condition so they perform well during lactation.
• Run at full capacity.
• Embrace latest technology.
• Staff training vital.