Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pig opportunities for production partnerships

October 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles

BQP is looking for new partners to meet growing demand for higher welfare pig production. Judith Tooth reports.

Nobody knows what a post-Brexit future holds. But all three scenarios examined by a recent ADHB report suggest it could be positive for pig producers.

On top of that, the UK currently imports more than half of the pork it consumes. This means there are opportunities for farmers to diversify into pig production, says grower farms manager for BQP, Richard Gooding.

“More retailers are now recognising demand for a higher percentage of higher welfare British pork, particularly outdoor bred, and that is what we have dedicated ourselves to for the last 38 years. The opportunities are out there.”

BQP, the pig farming division of Dalehead Foods, is primarily an East Anglian operation, but there are producers as far as North Yorkshire, Warwickshire and the M25 corridor. BQP supplies the pigs, feed, veterinary advice, logistics and field staff support, while producers provide land or buildings, equipment, straw, water and labour.

“It’s pig production on a partnership basis,” says Richard. “Whether they are breeding pigs or growing them, producers are paid a management fee, which is a regular payment per pig, for looking after their stock, so the risks and exposure to the market place are very much reduced.”

Award winners

It’s a partnership that’s working well: BQP was recently named Farmers Weekly Pig Farmer of the Year, and Richard was a finalist in the farm adviser category. There are also15 producers among the finalists at the upcoming National Pig Awards.

“On the breeding side we’re looking for people with suitable land, owned or rented; for growers there are opportunities for new build and conversion of existing buildings, with the potential of long term agreements supporting borrowing if needed.”

BQP has so far supported 130 new builds, advising on planning matters and engaging with local communities to explain how the pig enterprise works. There is help with biosecurity, building design – a bespoke design has been used since 2005 – and environmental concerns, including help with environmental permits for larger units.

There is also guidance on costings, making a business plan and help with finding material suppliers and builders. For building conversions, there’s advice on how best to adapt them for efficiency and ease of management.

“In terms of how to look after the pigs, we offer intensive support especially pre- start up and batch one. Some of our most successful producers have never kept pigs before. We have a team of five field staff supporting producers, and we recognise that regular contact is important.

“I always say to the team, it’s important to be someone the producer wants to see, not someone they have to see. We may have grown in size as a company but we’re very conscious of maintaining the level of care we showed when we were smaller.

“We help our farmer partners maximise Welfare, efficiency of production and maintain the necessary standards to ensure we’re delivering what we say we are. We have a very short supply chain so we know that everything is as we say it is.

Customers

Our customers are high-end retailers, and so we’re Red Tractor and Freedom Food assured, as well as having our own outdoor bred assured accreditation that goes above and beyond these schemes to cover things like aesthetics’, farm health and safety awareness and first aid.”

The all in-all out-batch process begins when the pigs arrive from our outdoor breeding units at four weeks old. They are split-sexed on farm, and every batch is monitored so that each producer knows exactly how his or her pigs are performing in terms of feed efficiency, growth, health and mortality.

When the pigs leave for BQP’s dedicated abattoir at Spalding, BQP supplies a cleaning and disinfecting support service including approved detergents and disinfectants, the buildings are then rested prior to the next batch arriving.

Straw-based throughout, growing pigs fits particularly well with an arable enterprise, says Richard, because it delivers such a valuable by-product back to the land. A 1000-place building needs approximately 120t of straw a year and returns approximately 700t of farmyard manure, bringing savings on artificial fertilisers. And, with labour for 1000 pigs at around two hours a day, it can easily fit in around other jobs.

One arable farmer who has diversified into pigs is Paul Howland, based near Halesworth. Part of his motivation was the opportunity to give his part-time employee, Jimmy Balls, the chance to work full-time. With 18 batches under his belt since his new buildings went up in 2011, Paul has hit top feed conversion bonus payments 16 times.

Attention to detail

“It’s all about attention to detail,” he says. Automated monitoring of food and water consumption has been really helpful. I get a text alert if, for example, the water consumption is higher or lower than it should be, and can deal with the problem straight away rather than there being any delay which could have an adverse effect on the pigs. Even better is that I used to add water treatment products via the header tank and now I have a select doser system in place allowing much more accuracy.

“Another example: with every batch of 1400 pigs, there can be up to 100 ‘smalls’. At week one I’m thinking about week 19 and emptying the farm: if I can get 60 or 70 per cent of them in the weight range by then, I’m helping the smalls to thrive and I get a bigger bonus.  “I separate them, and use a transition feeder giving them wet food, hot water and electrolytes, then over the following weeks pull out the bigger ones until I am left with the final ones to focus on. Of course, all the pigs get as much attention, but it’s things like that that help maximise the welfare of the animals as well my income.

Reliability of income is also an important factor: “We’ve bought more land, which was a lot of money, with BQP’s system of payments, I knew I could pay off the pig enterprise loan within five years.

“I know that even if I had been less productive, I can still tell my bank manager what I’m bringing in each month. Compare that with the arable enterprise: what will the yields be? When should I sell? What about Brexit?”

While Paul is clearly highly motivated to achieve good results, it’s not beyond anyone else to do the same, says Richard. And, with the current average age of a BQP pig producer being in his or her forties – much younger than the overall average among farmers, he says – there’s good reason to feel encouraged about the future of high welfare pig production.

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