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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Goodbye to the last parts of the pig equipment

Just before Christmas, the last remnants of our pig enterprise were sold and removed. The feed milling and mixing plant had been left in the corner of the barn looking old and unused for nearly seven years. It has now been removed and installed at another farm just down the road and soon the mill will be grinding once again.
So why did we decide to stop our pig enterprise?
David had built it up from scratch throughout his career and it had been very successful; the years when wheat prices were down around £65/T made feed prices low and it was cost effective to fatten and sell on fattened pigs. However, in the last few years the age of our units was starting to show.  We employed 2 full time pig men with David and had to hand feed 60% of the pigs. Only the sow house was fed by automatic feeders using individual ID collars. It came to the point that we would have had to invest large amounts of capital into the buildings to make the enterprise more financially efficient. This coincided with the wheat market starting to climb in 2000 and Patrick and I starting to show interest in taking on responsibility for the daily running of the farm.
I had never had an interest in day to day livestock farming.  I understand the benefits that a livestock enterprise gives a farm (muck, outlet of some crops, straw usage etc) but I’m also aware of the dangers. We were very lucky not to be caught and seriously affected by the Foot and Mouth outbreaks or the later Swine Flu epidemics that followed. This was a warning of which we had to take note and our thoughts, conversations and ideas were starting happen more frequently, about what else we could invest our time in.
In the end, it was a very hard decision but a very easy decision!  For the past couple of years it had been a struggle and we were basically working 7 days a week for 4 day’s pay. This in any business would not be acceptable and so we looked at how much capital it would take to improve this. The capital investment would have been far too much and we would have never seen the pay-back. So the decision was made to cease production. This in my eyes was the right thing to do at the right time, the pig herd was slowly reduced and as the pigs were weaned and fattened, they left the farm. It was very difficult, especially on a professional level, as we had to make two loyal pig men redundant.
The last pig left the farm in 2004 and it freed up time and money. We hired all the pig building out as an empty unit to another pig farmer nearby for a year, while they totally rebuilt their own unit. They had a very similar unit to us but they decided to invest the capital that we did not want to.  The reason?  Their location added value to their pigs because they can sell them through a farm shop just off the A143. This was not a sensible option for us, as we do not have the location for a farm shop. We decided the buildings left had a market for lets and other new enterprises, so we started to invest our time and money into new ideas for the farm.
We cleared the walls of the pens out of all the sheds to open up more storage for hay, straw and machinery. The old weaning building was cleared and re clad and now is rented out to a local carpenter, the sow house with its isolated drainage area has become our fertiliser and new spray store (This will be explained soon in another post) and two small, low sheds have been left redundant until a suitable use can be found. 

This decision to stop pig production was a massive one for the farm but we have not looked back. I feel that the farm is growing higher yielding and higher quality crops than ever before, with much more accuracy. All our time is put into crop production, making sure that all the crop inputs are applied at the right time and the right rates to the right parts of the field. Machinery usage has been reduced by improving the quality of machinery that we have; machines have got bigger to reduce the number of passes, fuel and time in the field. This has all been done to improve our business.  However, the natural environment has not been forgotten in the drive for higher yields and quality. For every large or small decision made on a farming level, we consider the impact it has on the wider environment, so our farm ecosystem is thriving too.                 BWB


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