Untidiness Is Idleness

UK - At a recent meeting of Yorkshire Agricultural Adventurers, Fred Hirst spoke about farming on the urban fringe, says Pig Worlds Sam Walton.
calendar icon 26 August 2006
clock icon 6 minute read
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Everyone was impressed by the way he had set about transforming his farm to cope with the difficulties of farming next to an urban population. There are paths round the farm, hedges have been established to make avenues to walk along, flowers have been planted, fishing lakes are currently being constructed and he has some of the rarest apple trees in the country. Hardly surprising then that he has won a Silver Lapwing for conservation. The public seem to appreciate his efforts.

Finishers on the Hirsts’ unit.
During his talk he showed slides of the farmyard and I spotted what looked like a tidy pig unit. So naturally I determined to pay him a visit. Fred was joined some years ago by two of his sons, Charles and Robert. They are taking after their father in as much as they are particular about having the place in apple-pie order. Charles takes responsibility for the arable enterprise whilst Robert has a pig unit to envy.

They were formerly Newsham multipliers and have since bred their own replacements. They have just sufficient purebred Landrace to which they mate a JSR dam line Large White through AI to produce their gilts. They use the JSR Landrace to support the purebreds when needed. They were advised to try the Hampshire boar from PIC for their commercial production some months ago and the first of the resulting progeny has recently gone for slaughter. Robert Hirst cannot get over the difference in growth rates since using Hampshire AI.

Of the last weaning of 280 pigs he had lost only one pig up to three weeks after weaning. They have what he calls ‘liveability’. Farrowing house mortality is well below 10 percent and any suspicion of PMWS has disappeared. They use teaser boars drawn from the finisher houses to assist heat at serving.


This water bowser with diesel engine serves two pressure washing lances.

Robert Hirst with replacement gilts in outdoor yards.

Some of the buildings are quite old. One Lambert Geerken farrowing house which was originally solid-floored with a scrapethrough central passage has just been refurbished with Electrovent controls for ventilation, secondhand large crates and plastic panelling and made into a fully-slatted house. This kit came from Mark Edwards who had an equally well-run unit in Lancashire which I visited five years ago and who is now majoring on his farm shop.

The difference in the farrowing house is tremendous and it is nowhere as labour demanding. While they were doing this work they extended the pens by almost a foot in length. Heat pads are used in all the farrowing houses with mobile heat lamps moved around and used only for farrowing. Everything on the farm is wetfed and that includes piglets from seven kilos. The newly-weaned piglets have a handful of home-mixed creep scattered on the boarded lying area at the back of ARM big pen weaner houses for a few days until they get accustomed to the changeover, which apparently they do very quickly.

They use their own grain and buy in a variety of co-products. The dry sows are fed through a Collinson wet-feed ESF system which has never been any problem. They speak highly of Dorothy Thompson, of Roses Nutrition, who looks after their formulation. Dorothy has sold the business to Paul Blanchard, formerly of Frank Wright and will work with him for two years.

Mucked out

All the unit’s vast concrete area is washed down every week. All the straw yards are mucked out every Friday. They have a tidy concrete manure stand with concrete panel walls round it. Dead stock is now incinerated through a Waste Spectrum machine. Robert Hirst obviously has an eye for a bargain and doesn’t throw money around unnecessarily so his wet-feed system is part Funki with Mitsubishi controls and also a fair bit of Meyer Lohne. He seems very good at repairing minor snags and any piggery which shows signs of disrepair is quickly patched up, but professionally done.

Wet Feeding: Sows are wet-fed through Collinson electronic sow feeders.


His recording system is an old Armada one. He records only what he feels it is essential to know. Currently they are doing 23.9 pigs per sow again after recovering from a touch of PMWS and the after-effects of the stress caused by foot and mouth; also, when they did a Pulmotil treatment they couldn’t keep any of their own replacement gilts back so had some older sows, which are of course being replaced now.

They did a partial destock in order to carry out their Pulmotil programme. This, plus the ‘Hampshire effect’ is now giving them growth rates of up to 940gms a day from 30 kilos liveweight to 105-plus when the finishers go to Cranswick Country Pork to get as close as possible to the special Hampshire heavy contract. The improved growth rates are around 140gms a day. Gilts are hardened off in outdoor concrete pens which strengthens their feet and legs. Very often gilts reared completely on straw have problems with legs.

Suckling pigs have the Schippers small round paddle wheel feeders. Pigs tend not to be able to dung in them which is not the case with some flat open trays. At weaning they have access to turkey drinkers as well as the wet-feed which at first is as stiff as possible whilst still remaining as liquid. Washing out is seen as vitally important.

They have a huge water tank on an old two- wheel trailer, with a diesel engine on the back, which provides the pressure for some of the washing out. They can take a couple of outlets from the tank which saves on buying an extra pressure washer, just the hose and gun. As we finished our look round and went back to the house for a cup of tea and home-made scones, Fred was just coming out, having already had his. I complimented him on the tidiness of his farm. He said that untidiness is idleness. No chance of slacking on this unit then. But the staff seem to enjoy what they do, and the working conditions are superb.

Courtesy of Pig World

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