The disease outbreak which prompted a total restock of Tim Bradshaw’s pig business was the catalyst for a complete change of management, which has led to a more sustainable enterprise for the future.
The Bradshaws’ business was set up in 1980 by Tim Bradshaw’s father John, with one shed and 36 hectares (90 acres) at Longfield Grange, Hessay, York, and grew rapidly into a 3,000-sow unit.
In the early 2000s, this was cut back to 1,000 sows, but in 2012 an outbreak of swine dysentery could have meant the end of the business. However, the decision was taken to restock and take the opportunity to change systems.
Tim says: “We could have decided to get out of pigs at that time, however we decide to continue, but change to a three-week batch system of serving, farrowing and weaning.”
Some of the long-serving staff at the time were not too happy about this and not sure it would work, but they now admit it is much better.
Tim says: “Since then, we have gradually been replacing the older buildings and, once you have one new building, it becomes addictive. We are constantly upgrading facilities to improve efficiency and make them better for pigs and staff.”
Aside from this there are no plans for further expansion and the herd now stands at 950 breeding sows. All replacement gilts are home-bred using JSR Genetics.
Various terminal sires have been tried, but currently Durocs are being used.
Tim says: “We are very happy with the Duroc. It is a fast-growing placid pig which suits our system and I think we will see more of the UK herd move to the Duroc in the future.”
The breeding herd is based on two sites 300 yards apart, but is run as one. Pigs are taken through to finishing at 20-24 weeks with 2,800 finished off-site, 1,800 on a site owned by Tim and a further 1,000 on bed and breakfast contracts.
All pigs are fed a dry compound feed which is bought-in. Tim says: “I like to keep it simple, so this works well for us. I have never done wet feeding.
“We have an articulated unit and do all our own haulage of feed and pigs, with 400 going each week to Woodhead Brothers, Colne, for Morrisons and 100 to independent wholesaler, John Penny and Son, Rawdon.”
The business has 11 staff, with three of the longest-serving members having worked for the family for 35 years and others for more than 20 years.
Tim says: “Ideally, I like to recruit staff locally and train them up, but the key is finding someone willing to work hard. We found our most recent member of staff from a Facebook advert, but staffing is certainly one of the biggest challenges for the industry.
Another major issue is disease and biosecurity is of highest priority on the unit.
Tim says: “The pig industry is constantly challenged by disease. Swine dysentery is a problem; there are constantly new strains of flu and a number of producers have had problems with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome [PRRS] this year.
“We vaccinate sows for PRRS, e.coli and erysipelas. Piglets are vaccinated for circovirus and bowel oedema. This is quite a new problem which we first had when we restocked.
“It affects growing pigs between six to eight weeks old, but the vaccine is very good and also helps with other e.coli challenges, so I would not want to retract it.”
The unit uses very little antibiotics, but, when necessary, will batch medicate in the water supply.
Tim says: “This is by far the most effective way. Medication in feed will be obsolete soon. No farmer wants to use an excessive amount of antibiotics. Why would we when we take such pride in producing healthy food?
“The biggest threat to the UK is African swine fever [ASF]. We have to remain vigilant and make sure it does not get into the UK. I feel the Animal and Plant Health Agency should be spending less time on bureaucratic issues and more time prioritising stopping food products coming into the country.”
It has been a difficult time for pig producers with low prices in recent months.
Tim says: “Historically, when pig prices have been low, feed prices have also been low. This time, feed prices have been high, which has had an impact and meant an increased cost of production of £15/pig.
“Much of this is down to Brexit fears and currency. The ASF situation in China means they will suck up a lot of product which should help, but we have to increase domestic consumption of pork.
“Modern buying habits are changing, as is the service sector, and we must produce meat for the modern palate, but we need a strong marketing and promotion campaign.
“The food service sector has to be taken to task for not using more British product. It is disappointing to see some duplicity and less than honest trading in certain meat outlets.
“However, with some facing fines and prison sentences, hopefully it will be a deterrent, along with isotope testing to ensure meat is British.”
Tim has recently joined the board of AHDB Pork and is looking forward to representing the views of independent indoor pig producers.
He says: “I feel it is my time to give something back to the industry and I hope to bring back messages from AHDB and ensure levy-payers feel they are getting value for money.
“I want to help producers understand what AHDB does and highlight some of its initiatives, such as Ladies in Pigs, which does such a good job of promoting the industry. The industry’s future is exciting. There is a lot going on in genetics, vaccine development and building knowledge.
“Pigs are still a good way of getting into agriculture, either as a new starter or for an arable farmer wanting to diversify and make use of slurry and muck, providing you have a sound business plan.
“To anyone thinking of entering the industry, I would say take advantage of low interest rates, secure long-term borrowing and put up the best buildings possible, but know what you are aiming to produce and ensure you have a market for your product.”