28th May 2014

Pig Monitor Farmer is Upbeat About Future

Aberdeenshire farmers Danny and Alison Skinner from Lazyfold, Insch, are discovering new ways to improve the efficiency of their pig business thanks to their involvement in the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) Monitor Farms Programme.

Lazyfold has been a monitor farm for around 18 months and a key focus has been improving growth rates in the finishing unit through more efficient food conversion. 

Danny and Alison farm in partnership with Danny's parents, Dan and May, and they employ four people on the 300 acre unit. The Skinners have around 400 sows, each producing 28.56 piglets per year on average with all the replacements being home-bred.

The family has taken a two-fold approach to becoming more efficient by planning a partial de-population of the herd to improve herd health and also by building a new, environmentally controlled grower/finisher building to improve feed conversion rates and growth.

Danny Skinner explained: "Being a monitor farm has pushed us on to improve the business. Facilitators Jim Booth from SAOS and Jamie Robertson of Livestock Management Systems Ltd have helped with budgets and planning which has given us the confidence to proceed with the new building.  Other members of the monitor farm group have also contributed significantly to the decision-making process on design details.”

The first step however is to get to the bottom of any disease problems in the herd and, with the help of Allan Ward, QMS Pig Specialist, the Skinners have started testing to confirm the status of the unit for potential diseases.

Mr Skinner explained: "Production will not be affected but when the piglets are weaned at four weeks they will be taken off site to another farm while the sows go through a month of treatment for any disease issues we find.

“Our local vets along with a specialist pig vet will set up the programme. After this treatment the herd will be regarded as high health and their new progeny will be able to be finished on farm as before, disease free."

Upgrading the health of the herd will have many advantages according to Danny, not only in reducing costs and stepping up welfare but healthier pigs should also have better feed conversion rates.

The Lazyfold pigs are marketed through Scottish Pig Producers at Huntly and sold to Tulip at Brechin and Woodhead Brothers at Colne, Lancashire.

Mr Skinner said: "There is no premium for high health pigs but there is a real move within the industry to reduce medication and improve health so we feel we are heading in the right direction."

The new slatted building which will take the pigs through from ten weeks to finishing will be built to the highest standards with a controlled environment which should improve growth rates.

Feed accounts for 70% of the cost of producing a pig so efficient feed conversion is very important. Five different rations are used in the first eight weeks post weaning, where the cost varies from £1200 per tonne to £350 per tonne so it is critical to know how each ration is performing.

The existing weaner building has electronic ventilation and feeding systems which, from the beginning of May, have been able to "speak to each other." This means that Mr Skinner will know exactly how much of each of the five rations the pigs are eating and which is the most efficient. He will also be able to see peaks and troughs in consumption and link them to the environmental conditions, which can be adjusted accordingly thus reducing costs.

Around 70 tonnes of feed are used every week, so if the new shed with its improved environment brings down the finishing time from 22 weeks to 20 weeks, the Skinners will make significant savings. Monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the partial depopulation and investment in the new building is then shared with fellow farmers at the monitor farm meetings, which take place off farm to ensure the biosecurity of the farm is not compromised.

However it is not just the pig unit which comes under scrutiny at these meetings, the monitor farm project takes a whole farm view and the Skinner family are also looking at ways to improve cereal yields.

They grow 420 acres of wheat and barley which allows them to be about 55% self-sufficient for feed in the pig unit. Mr Skinner said: "Last year we built a slurry store which has allowed us to target our slurry applications to the most effective time and save on bought-in fertilisers."

They also now use a contractor with an umbilical system for slurry application which means the tank can be emptied in about one-and-a-half days reducing passes across the field, thereby preventing soil compaction and also saving time and money.

The Skinners have had pigs at Lazyfold since the late 1960's and they are positive about the future of the industry. Mr Skinner said: "The pig industry has shrunk across the whole of Europe which has created demand for pork and bacon and prices are currently at about 160p/kg which is good value compared to beef or lamb and should be attractive to the consumer. Pigs are currently leaving a healthy margin so prospects look good."

He believes that, with the help of the Monitor Farms Programme, he can continue to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and remain a profitable pig and cereal unit.

Caption: Danny Skinner pictured with pigs which are playing with a scented environment enrichment toy. The toys, which come in a range of scents including apple and chocolate, are proving popular sources of entertainment for pigs on the farm.

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