Movement proves close call
Swift action to move pigs
restrictions began averted a
crisis at Cansdale, where
end-of-year accounts make
Simon Wragg reports
A CALL from the units vet warning of the UKs first suspected case of foot-and-mouth gave owner John Sleightholme just enough time to move the new gilt herd from its temporary base 23 miles away to the newly refurbished unit close to Cansdale.
The last lorry load arrived a matter of hours before movement restrictions began on the Friday evening (Feb 23). Farrowing started on the following Monday – a close call, he admits.
To date, over 100 litters have been born, averaging 10.2 piglets a sow, with few problems. The fully-slatted farrowing house works well, although shredded waste paper is being spread in some pens to avoid piglets becoming splay-legged.
One downside of moving all the stock – the initial plan had been to bring gilts over in stages as they neared farrowing – has been a rise in the number of recently AId animals which failed to hold to service. In all, 25 have been affected and will have to be re-served.
Not a day goes by without some attention being paid to movement licences. Initially, two weeks worth of finishers were stranded and were switched to maintenance rations from separate companies. The dearer one, costing £116/t, did a better job limiting weight gain and backfats and was well worth the expense.
"The better group sold at 100p/kg deadweight compared with 94p/kg for the others," says Mr Sleightholme. Malton Bacon also offered the chance to sell overweight pigs at a flat rate of 85p paid on all kilos, up to 95kg deadweight.
Getting delivery details right on movement licences issued from the local Trading Standards Department remains a battle. "We have missed our delivery window on occasions. At one point pigs were loaded on a wagon before the driver spotted a mistake. As the finishers would have been in distress, Trading Standards re-issued the licence by fax within five minutes of our call," he says.
Over 500 weaners have also been moved to contract finishers from the old outdoor unit at Cansdale. A period of three weeks must lapse before another movement order can be applied for to shift the remaining 400 head, and nerves are on edge with suspected outbreaks of foot-and-mouth being reported locally.
"There are 110 sows left on site, but nobody wants them. The cull market has collapsed. Instead, I am looking at feeding waste potatoes supplemented with calcium and phosphorous instead of sow rolls to reduce costs. But I can only feed potatoes to two-thirds of the culls nutrient requirement and the remainder will have to be made up of dry sow food."
Other measures have been taken to trim costs. A veterinary visit to see pigs being loaded for Malton Bacon was combined with the quarterly inspection required for various assurance schemes. All bought-in AI has been suspended as a disease precaution and use is being made of the units own boar stud and processing lab.
Some hope has been seen in recent negotiations on cereal sales, land lets and compound feed contracts. About four weeks ago Mr Sleightholme sold the units wheat, with feed samples making £74/t and milling £85/t for April movement – not bad considering feed wheat has since fallen to £67/t.
Agreement has also been reached on terminating the three-year farm business tenancy (FBT) on the proposed outdoor pig site that was partly flooded. "It has been set at the rental value for the five months of the agreement that had passed, which is fair enough," he says.
Forward contracts for pig feed have also been agreed for summer. "With wheat under £70/t and soya at £150-£155/t the increases have not been as bad as I had first feared."
But every penny counts. Although a sympathetic visit from the Yorkshire Bank to look at prospects was greatly appreciated, Mr Sleightholme and his mother, Elizabeth know their hard work returned little financial reward.
End of year accounts to Dec 31 show a profit of £30,000 before private drawings, which is the equivalent to about 2% of turnover. There have been exceptional costs too, including legal fees, investigation charges imposed by former bankers and high depreciation costs. Adding these back would have given a margin of nearer 7%. *
Waste potatoes versus
Cost (£/t dry matter) 60 129
Nutrient value (DE) 12.0 12.5
Protein content (%) 8.75 16
Calcium (g/kg) 0.07 0.95
Phosphorous (g/kg) 0.18 0.65
• Westfield and Cansdale Farm, a 140ha (350 acre) largely arable unit on the east of the Yorks Wolds, farmed by John Sleightholme and his mother, Elizabeth. Both units are family-owned.
• The land is mainly chalk-based loam with small areas of underlying clay and gravel.
• Main arable crop is winter wheat. Potatoes and vining peas are also grown.
• All arable duties contracted out to neighbouring estate. Family buys inputs and decides where produce sold.
• Three indoor pig herds of 270, 330 and 600 sows selling progeny via contract finishers to local processors.
• A 30,000 broiler enterprise rearing birds from chicks through to 7.75lb liveweight. Sold to supermarkets via Grampian Country Foods.
• Farm staff of 11 on pigs and one man on broiler unit.