Traditional Family Farms Secret to Ontario's Success

20 October 2016, at 12:00am

CANADA - There are plenty of pig farmers who farm pigs literally just on a block of concrete and little else. If disease strikes or pig prices plummet and feed costs rocket, making a profit can be tough going, whereas a mixed farming operation does not have “all its eggs in one basket“, plus has land on which to spread solid and liquid manure, writes Stuart Lumb.

Having land to grow feed grains and soyabeans means that these ingredients can be milled on the farm and do not incur the transport costs of shipping to the mill and also do not incur the costs of shipping finished feed from the mill back to the farm.

Family labour is another bonus. ”Hence mixed family farms are the main reason for Ontario’s success,” suggests Tim Player, who farms near Stratford, Ontario, along with his mother and father, brother Mike and a part–time employee.

Incidentally, Ontario currently has around 300,000 sows, with land in some areas of the province fetching over C$20,000 an acre.

The Player family farms 1500 acres (625ha) of corn, wheat, barley and soyabeans.

The pig business totals 530 Genesus sows and gilts, that consist of a true F1 (Yorkshire /Landrace cross) gilt replacements being shipped in at 100kg from Manitoba, a journey of some 26 hours.

No doubt with a journey of this length, plenty of gilts soon come on heat once they have arrived on –farm in Ontario.

Sows and gilts all farrow in large roomy farrowing houses, twice weekly. Many units with hyper prolific sows feel it is advantageous to have staff in the farrowing house in the evening, but Tim is not of that opinion.

Growing feed grains and soya means that Tim can mix many of the diets on farm, which keeps feed costs down and is a major factor in running a profitable pig business.

The home mixed lactation ration is given in meal form at 7am and 4pm. This feed, along with all the other home mixed feeds is made up of corn, cooked soya , barley and a VATM supplement.

When corn and soya were quite expensive Tim substituted DDGS in the lactation ration to cut feed costs. However, this caused problems and so DDGS was not included in future formulations.

Creep feed is not home mixed but is bought in from Primary Diets along with a couple of starter rations.

Sows are not induced, with piglets being attracted away from the sow by a lamp and a heat pad, the latter being initially kept at 30°C (reducing to 21°C at weaning).


The farrowing pens are fully slatted, with Tenderfoot slatting the preferred choice (apart from under the sow).

Piglets are teethed, tailed and given an iron injection shortly after farrowing, with castration taking place no later than three days of age.

Weaning takes place twice weekly - on Tuesdays and Thursdays , when piglets are 21 days of age and weigh 7lbs (3.2kg).


Pens are rigorously cleaned out, power washed and disinfected. A pressurised water line has been installed in the barns, doing away with the chore of having to drag a power washer round the unit.

Tim’s target is to wean 260 piglets per week, which are split into groups of 35, kept in fully slatted pens with feed being provided via rectangular ad lib hoppers.

Pigs remain in these groups right through to slaughter and Tim is very keen to point out that pigs never get mixed. Mixing of course stresses pigs and makes them “stand still” so not mixing animals is a big bonus, assuming pen numbers and pen size allow the batch size to remain constant through to slaughter.

Ileitis is a problem on the unit and so piglets are vaccinated at weaning. In addition, piglets are given Circoflex mixed with Mycoflex.

Sows at weaning get moved into one of 12 service pens, adjacent to 12 boars. Sows are inseminated with Duroc semen twice in 24 hours with sows being fed the lactation diet until they are served.

Semen is sourced from the nearby Ontario Swine Breeders facility, which can house 400 boars and which currently has 50 Genesus boars on its inventory.

Served sows and gilts are all housed in stalls, in a large spacious gestation barn. Group housing during pregnancy is increasing in popularity in Canada, but Tim likes the stall system and is not a fan of loose housing.


Weaners are taken through to finishing on another nearby site which also houses the feed mill.

A large mechanised feed barrow takes feed from the mill to the pigs with the large ad lib hoppers being filled via a horizontal auger attached to the feed barrow. The auger is quite short; however by positioning the feed hoppers tight up to the pen wall the end of the auger fits over the hoppers and so feed gets delivered without wastage.

Feed Barrow

The finisher pigs are housed on concrete slats on top of deep slurry pits which can hold nine months accumulation of effluent.

Tim aims to ship his finishers at a dressed weight of 95 kg and does a pretty good job, selecting by eye. Tim is paid on backfat depth along with lean meat percentage.

With 1500 acres, slurry disposal is not a problem. Tim has huge twin axle slurry tankers which hold 13.5 tons each and which run in tandem.

Slurry Tanker

Dribble bars and injection are not common in Ontario given the low density of the human population.

The slaughter houses, or packers as they are known in Canada, have a major influence on producers.

For example, they dictate whether or not the producer can use Paylean - which Tim incidentally considers increases the numbers of DOAs (Dead On Arrivals).

There is not a national or provincial Quality Control programme, although some packers do have them in place, with the producer’s vet being tasked with administering them.

Tim and his family run a very tidy operation – “a good look on” as we say in Yorkshire - which all takes time and effort and they are to be complimented on the immaculate state of the farm.

Tim’s output currently stand at 27 pigs per sow per year. As his percentage of Genesus genes increases he would hope to get this over the 30 mark and Tim may need to think about increasing staff time in the farrowing houses, to ensure that his larger litters stay that way.

Tim and Katie

The author wishes to express his thanks to Genesus and in particular to Katie Sinclair for organising his visit and of course to the Player family for letting the author on to their farm and to Tim in particular for giving up his valuable time to show the author his pigs.

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