The Secret Of My Success? Good People!

By Sam Walton, Pig World - I know it’s an embarrassment to Phil Stephenson to be seen as ‘the best’, but if attention to detail is anything to go by then he deserves the title – even though he insists he does nothing out of the ordinary.
calendar icon 20 September 2006
clock icon 8 minute read
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He says the secret of his unit’s success is the staff. They enjoy their work, and that is what he is after. He doesn’t want people who see their work just as a means to a pay packet. Maybe one of the reasons the staff enjoy what they do is that he has invested wisely in new buildings and refurbishing others. Not only does this give better working conditions, it also provides improved conditions for the stock.

The first time I visited Phil was at least ten years ago when he was trialing some baby pig feeders from Holland or Denmark. The fact he is now using the Transition Feeder for small pigs tells me the foreign ones were not up to the mark. The next time was to see the slurry treatment plant started by his father, Andrew, who bagged up the resulting dry compost and sold it to garden centres. Andrew now reckons to be retired but is still in charge of spreading slurry which is either used on their own land or taken to neighbours.

To make life easier Phil has bought an automatic attaching arrangement for the slurry inlet on the tanker which saves Andrew the time and effort of getting out of the tractor. They can’t understand why some arable men do not value slurry more highly. Readers will know the effect not having slurry has had on my own farm. I wish Andrew would bring me some!

Automatic slurry coupler makes filling up a more pleasant task.
The last time I went was about five years ago when a new fully-slatted Pig Environment finisher house for 1,000 pigs had been erected. This was to allow them to take pigs to around 112 kilos live. Phil recognises the last 10 kilos put on are the cheapest and the house paid for itself quickly, so he knocked down some of the older houses and built another. He was so encouraged by the results, he decided to build some new Pig Environment weaner accommodation.

He has also built some of his own. And he has some IDS weaner buildings which are well made and work well also. I noticed that some were big pen and other buildings had pens just big enough for two litters. I asked him about this as he seemed to have altered some of the big pens to smaller pens. Trials on the farm have shown 0.1 better FCR for pigs in smaller groups, though the initial housing costs are slightly higher. So smaller pens it is and all pigs in both buildings are now held there to 40 kilos. This means just one mixing at weaning.

The farrowing house is nine rooms long of which eight have 12 crates but the first one only has eleven. Where the twelfth crate would have been there is a second changing room. Any of the four staff entering the farrowing area have to change their overalls and boots. If they don’t they will suffer the wrath of the farrowing house supremo, Jo Cockerton.

Those clothes stay there except for washing and all staff have to come through one door as the rest are locked for biosecurity reasons. One improvement in the farrowing rooms is the new Acru ventilation system installed in each room. This means windows are open only at the height of summer, and so far no flies have been seen. I have to say the atmosphere is superb. There is no sign of scours and no coughing either – and what clouting pigs they are.


Ready for weaning.

Three years ago the unit had a complete destock and repopulation with PIC stock from Richard Lister’s unit. Since then not one live pig has come onto the unit. They are using JSR and Hermitage dam line semen in a criss-cross pattern for replacement gilts and for the last 18 months they have used the PIC Hampshire boar with astounding results.

Before that they were on a five-week batch system, weaning at four weeks and serving at five. They liked the system but since the arrival of the Hampshire they find they need to wean at three weeks as the piglets grow so quickly, and were beginning to damage their mothers’ teats by the end of the fourth week. Two days before weaning the 107 litters, staff remove the smaller pigs, probably no more than one a litter, and it is these pigs that go onto the QE Transition feeder.

Again, since the arrival of the Hampshire, the mortality of these pigs has virtually disappeared. Everything, including the finisher accommodation, is washed twice. One man does a wash and then later another man does a follow up. Phil Stephenson says no two people do the job the same so having two goes at it makes a better job, and it shows in the performance of the pigs.

Now they have gone back to three-week weaning – four-week serving – the number of sows has been increased and the herd now stands at 550 sows. In addition to Jo in the farrowing, Peter Scott, Martin Skilbeck and Mark Fairclough all have their own specialities and work together as and when necessary. Robin Ford has recently joined them on an as-and-when basis and can cover at busy times as well as helping with maintenance. They have just joined Agskills. Phil says is an excellent organisation and both he and the staff are looking forward to the opportunity to learn about up-to-date techniques.

When he was using his own boars Phil tried single service only, with considerable success. He found he got the same number of piglets born as with double service. He tried this with AI, again with much success, but the occasional batch let was disappointing so at the moment they are using two serves. But when the herd has settled down and got used to fourweek batches, instead of five, he is prepared to try single service again. He thinks as technology improves it will come.

Thanks to biosecurity, tip-top management and sound advice from their vet, Nigel Wolfenden, herd health had been excellent until last September when the herd broke down to EP, so now they vaccinate. Nutritional guru Mick Hazzledine formulates their rations which are then put out to tender for manufacture and currently Wm Thompson of York are entrusted with that, whilst Ian Mosey makes their creep, again formulated by Mick Hazzeldine. At the moment they are contracted forward to the end of August.

I noted that many of the pigs carry a bit of colour, mostly a light coloured blue and white but there were several black and white ones. One sow continually throws out these coloured piglets and Phil’s daughter, Ellie, has nicknamed her rainbow. Colour is not a real problem but it does exist. Cranswick Country Foods, which takes all the pigs, has not complained.

The dry sows are fed through Collinson ESF stations, one yard per batch, so each of the yards has 107 sows which go through two stations per yard. Phil says you could put 80 sows through a station as they start the feed cycle at 1pm and they have all invariably fed by 8am next day.

The finisher houses all have the Osborne Big Wheel feeder. Phil loves these but has difficulty using the smaller ones. I suppose that is what makes pig units so interesting in as much as other people swear by the small ones so I think we can safely say that what works on one unit might not necessarily be the answer on another. The more I see, the more I am convinced that good management, biosecurity, working conditions, herd health and accommodation are the ingredient that allow stock to express their potential. I can see why Philip has such a high reputation even if he can’t.

One thing he did say was how helpful he found NPA. He cannot understand why everyone isn’t a member. He has a point. If we want a prosperous industry, we have to pull together. Let’s hope his comments hit home.

Courtesy of Pig World

April 2006

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