Saturday, February 23, 2019

40 years of indoor know-how pays dividends for outdoor unit

February 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Investment in an insulated housing system that provides full environmental control is improving production efficiency on a Norfolk pig farm.

Trevor Short set up his first outdoor unit last February after 40 years managing a number of indoor pig herds. Despite a cold, wet spring followed by a record-breaking hot summers, he says he does not regret the switch at the site near Swaffham.

The new unit – part of MJ and JA Easey, a family business run by brothers Jon and Chris Easey –  began serving its first batch of JSR T9 gilts on 7 May. But for unit manager Mr Short, the process of setting up the new site began much earlier.

“We started laying out and stocking the 13ha outdoor site in early February and by early summer we were at 1350 sows – fractionally below the 1400 sow capacity we had envisaged,” he explains.

Remarkably placid

The new T9 gilts proved to be remarkably placid showing very little aggression. They came on heat quickly, stood well and proved to be exceptionally easy to serve using 100% artificial insemination, says Mr Short.

“Having worked primarily with older stock in the past I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly the new gilt start up went, given that buying in brand new stock can sometimes be a bit hit and miss.”

The new breeding unit supplies 8kg weaners on contract to UK pork processor Karro Food Group for finishing at their site at Malton, North Yorkshire.

It was a challenge to meet supply targets consistently with a young herd of new stock while simultaneously overcoming extremely hot conditions – including temperatures of over 37ºC on many days during the summer.

Given the significant challenges this posed, Mr Short looked at the some of the parallels between indoor and outdoor units to see if there was an obvious route to improving the sows’ living environment.

Temperature control

Recognising that temperature control is critical to both pig welfare and improved productivity, the key to making a good start on the new unit was linked strongly to the new outdoor housing selected.

“Indoor production has always offered a more stabilised environment, which in my opinion is what pigs prefer. Excessive heat or cold is not good and both are much more difficult to control on outdoor units.

“As a management team it made sense to look at selecting the right type of outdoor sow housing that could minimize the pigs exposure to temperature extremes.”

In March, director Jon Easey contacted pig specialist Jamie MacDonald of Cambridgeshire-based Contented Products to trial three Aardvark farrowing arks alongside three Armadillo farrowing arks. The trial followed an initial conversation with the Karro Food Group. 

Karro had successfully trialled the arks on their own outdoor sites as far back as 2016 so we went ahead with our own trial based on their positive feedback. After completing the trial, some 325 Armadillo arks were ordered.

Mr Easey explains: “Although we liked both arks the decision was made to go with the Armadillo, mainly due to its higher roof designed for larger sows.”

Extremely comfortable

During the summer, Mr Short and his team put the new arks to work. They have made a significant contribution to the unit’s success, he says.

“One of the first observations was that the sows were extremely comfortable, spending a lot of time in the arks on hot days allowing their piglets to suckle longer. Even when outside temperatures touched 37ºC the temperature inside the arks never rose above 25ºC.

“The smooth moulded design has no sharp edges preventing injuries and inside there is an excellent lying space for both the sow and her piglets. The offset rear window reduces any through draft and provides a useful viewing post for observing sows and piglets.

“On colder days, we saw very little condensation inside the ark so straw stays dry for much longer. Another big bonus is that the arks come complete with only the fender to be drilled to attach the nipple drinker so very little time is lost in the set up.”

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