Real Quality attracts a premium, doesn't it?

UK - Training, dedication, stockmanship, loyalty, high-health and good biosecurity seem to be the keys to success at Limestone Farming Com-pany’s 400 sow unit at Willoughton in North Lincs. Unit manager David Owers is coming up to 20 years in charge and has seen many changes in that time.
calendar icon 8 November 2006
clock icon 7 minute read

Two years ago the unit, of which parts are 50 years old, was hit badly by PMWS, with high mortality. This was not only financially crippling but soul destroying for the dedicated team of Paul and Adrian Thompson, Ian Palmer and the relief man from the arable side of the estate, Andrew Harlow. Limestone Farming is a huge enterprise with 5,000 acres at Willoughton and another estate close by. Current staff on the farms and the unit are second and third generation employees, which says a lot for the company.

David’s staff have been with him for many years, which makes for good continuity on the unit.The decision had to be made to close the unit down or do a de-stock-restock. Pigs had always been an important part of the farming operations so the directors very sensibly decided to go ahead and at the same time to update the unit where possible. Reducing sow numbers from 530 to 410 has allowed finisher weights to be lifted to around 80 kilos dead. The JSR Genepackers have been mated to Yorker boars and currently the Titan is being tried. All pigs go to Cranswick on a 60-90 kilo dead contract. Currently 26 pigs per sow per year are being sold, which is no mean feat.

The decision was also taken to have their own GGPs from which to breed GPs and only to buy in boars. David’s wife Lizzie looks after their in-house boar stud, collecting and processing the semen as well as helping out on the unit on wean-ing days. Paula Joseph, who specialises in AI, calls every three months to do an audit. It was she who trained Lizzie and the rest of the staff in AI techniques.

Paula told them what they needed to do to set up their own lab and Bob Gornall, of Rotech, supplied and fitted the necessary equipment. David is keen on training and this shows with his staff. He had just had a week off and never has any qualms about leaving his team as he has every confidence in them. At the same time as the re-stocking took place, they decided to go to a batch system. Every three weeks they serve 60 sows to get 55 to farrow. Currently they are having a high conception rate and are run-ning at 58 sows per batch. Serving is done by the whole team. A teaser boar runs in the pas-sage in front of the serving stalls which helps the sows to stand like rocks.

At serving they use a Schippers Breeding Buddy which is like a large horse shoe made of springy plastic which is put on the back of each sow to give pressure, a bit like a saddle. At the moment three services are given – morning, afternoon and morning next day. They have tri-alled doing just two services and have had exactly the same result with an average of 12 born so they are looking at doing just two but, as David says, the men know which sows to do that on as it depends on how she reacts at service.

The former sow stalls have been converted into free access stalls and a scrape passage is cleared three times a week. In the serving shed there are two rows of stalls, one for the sows which have been weaned and the other for the sows which have been served for three weeks. This means that when they run the teaser boar down the cen-tral passage, they can check the three-week ones at the same time. Once the sow is served, she stays in her stall until heat is over, oth-erwise the sows knock hell out of each other, a good welfare point methinks. And our competitors on the continent are allowed to keep them in stalls for up to 35 days.

At each batch of serving, they mate three GP sows to a dam line boar to be able to select 12 gilts. Each three weeks, 12 gilts are Regu-mated. David says how good it is; the gilts come into season bang on when they should do. The old farrowing houses have been refurbished with the front half of the floors solid with under-floor heating, the rear half being cast slats.

The new crates are from Bill Diaper at LEC. Some of the not-so-old far-rowing is solid with under-floor heating and is brushed out twice a day, when the sows are fed. There was no sign of scour anywhere nor indeed was their any coughing anywhere on the unit. They have their own mill and nutritional advice comes from Bob White of Banbury Agriculture. Cur-rently more barley is being used as the price of wheat is increasing. All the dry and suckling sows are fed meal manually; this way each sow is seen to be eating, or otherwise, and feed can be adjusted accordingly.

Some of the bigger suckling sows now in their fifth parity are eating up to 8-9 kilos a day which is resulting is some storming weaners at four weeks of age. TEAMEFFORTAll sows are induced for far-rowing which means all hands on deck on farrowing day. It is a team e°ort, the same as serving, and it works well. Piglets at weaning are given Stellamune Once, not that they have any problems, but as an insurance policy. Sows are vacci-nated against blue ear, erysipelas and e-coli and gilts are given a parvo jab. Weaners go into one of two systems.

A Nurtinger shed has been converted into kennels and a slatted area, the pigs being fed manually. Here they stay until they go to finisher straw yards. The rest go into flatdecks which have been converted from small pens with a central passage into large pens and the central passage is now an un-derfloor heated section. This works very well. After five weeks the pigs go into a grower section with an in-door sleeping and on-floor feeding area and an outdoor slatted dung-ing area.

As part of a large estate they have access to plenty of cattle and potato sheds for straw yard finish-ing. The unit is able to keep each batch separate through the system. Each straw yard holds one week’s pigs or several yards together hold the 600. A number of big bales go into each yard to start with and the strings are cut as and when deemed necessary. This saves a lot of labour. These pigs are automatically fed and just need checking each day.

There are no energy costs and the arable team mucks out each yard as and when it becomes avail-able. David trained one of the mill workers to be a lorry driver so they can deliver their own pigs to Cranswick each week. It usually works out that the 600 pigs from the batch make up a 200-pig load every week, as not all pigs grow at the same rate, and this gives con-sistent marketing. The batch system has allowed for better cleaning.

The team know when the busy times are and work well together. Gradually, in be-tween times, they are tidying up the old unit as it is modernised. One thing they have done is to install a security fence and eve-ryone has to shower in. That means that David, or any of the staff, if they go home for lunch or visit a finishing site, must shower in again.

I am never convinced that popping out for whatever reason can do any harm but it is a discipline and that is becoming more important these days. Something is working as the pigs looked absolutely superb even if it is a labour intensive unit, or maybe even because it is and the pigs are seen more often.

By Sam Walton and appeared in Novembers edition of Pig World

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