Being part of the North-East Pig Monitor Farm Programme has brought huge successes for Aberdeenshire farmer Patrick Stephen. Over the last four years, the farm has made significant changes in key areas that have impacted on business profitability and sustainability by trialling new practices and technology.
The Pig Monitor Farm Programme is funded 50:50 by Opportunity North East (ONE) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The aim is to help improve the profitability, productivity and sustainability of pig producers through practical demonstrations, the sharing of best practice and the discussion of up-to-date issues.
Mr Stephen’s unit is run by manager Wayne Ducker, and a staff of four people on the 900-acre farm. Patrick also has a commercial herd of 530 sows housed on straw and runs JSR females with a Danbred terminal sire.
The finished pigs are sold through Scottish Pig Producers marketing group to Quality Pork Processors (QPP) at Brechin or Woodhead Brothers.
Since the start of the project, Mr Stephen’s unit has made improvements in most of the key production parameters, with the unit now seeing an increase of 20% in pig-meat sold per sow.
Mr Stephen explained: "Being a monitor farm has pushed us to improve the business and has helped put the business in good stead for the future. We have become more efficient by improving management practices and are regularly investing in new buildings, for example, an environmentally controlled 1800 place weaner shed and a 1600 space grower/finisher shed to improve feed conversion and growth rates.
Before the programme, six hundred pigs from Mill of Carden were finished on a site close to the unit. They are now finished at Mill of Carden due to the new grower/finisher shed being erected.
“Finishing all the pigs at Mill of Carden improves biosecurity, reduces bed and breakfast costs, as well as straw and labour costs,” said Mr Stephen.
“We’ve also invested in a new grain store and straw shed which will improve straw quality as all straw was previously stored outside which, in turn, should reduce the risk of mycotoxin issues in the breeding herd.
“Refurbishment of the electronic sow feeding system and the installation of a new water tank will also improve pig drinking water and improve growth rates.
“The Monitor Farm Programme and the support of the community group has provided the business with advice and support to help make these big decisions and improvements,” he added.
Through the Monitor Farm programme, Mr Stephen also wanted to improve on was the use of data to make informed management decisions.
Alongside 25 other pig producers in Aberdeenshire, Mr Stephen has been using the Agrosoft pig production software which enables the unit to record and manage every element of herd performance, as well as being able to benchmark against the rest of the Scottish industry.
Allan Ward, Pig Specialist with QMS, said: “The sharing of best practice with fellow farmers at the monitor farm meetings helps Scottish pig production businesses to be efficient and sustainable.
“Mr Stephen’s farm is a great example of a pig business which was performing well before it started the programme, but there was recognition that there was scope for further improvement.
“By making these changes, Mr Stephen has delivered significant gains.”