Filling a gap in the market
A clever invention has saved an Essex pig farmer thousands of pounds, much hassle and enabled him to continue to produce pigs under the Red Tractor Farm Assurance scheme.
Chris Leamon runs a 320-sow herd on the family farm near Harlow. All the pigs are taken through to finishing at an average of 76kg deadweight and are liquid-fed using a variety of co-products. Slats are virtually a pre-requisite with wet feeding but wear and tear and the corrosive effects of some ingredients caused damage to the slats, enlarging the gaps.
An EU ruling on slatted floors which came into effect at the beginning of the year required a maximum gap of 18mm with a tolerance of +/- 3mm for finishers.
“The buildings complied with the BS standard when put up in the 1990’s but during a routine inspection in 2011, the farm assurance assessor pointed out that this gap was exceeded in many of the floors. This meant that, technically, we could lose our assured status,” commented Chris.
The farm has 1,500 finishing places and it was found that in some cases up to 90 per cent of the slats were affected. The obvious, if expensive, solution would have been simply to replace the concrete slats, but the big problem was that the finishing houses were built on top of them.
Chris, who has a HND qualification in agricultural engineering looked at many ways of solving this problem. These included putting solid plastic boards over the slats – “slippery and dirty” – covering the entire floor with a fresh layer of concrete and making new gap – costly and impractical – or putting new plastic slats on top of the concrete ones. These would have been difficult to keep clean, resulting in hygiene problems. He even tried mending them with a resin mixture, but getting it to adhere to the slats was a problem.
He approached Suffolk equipment manufacturer, Quality Equipment, and asked for ideas to solve the problem. Their design department came up with an ingenious solution – stainless steel slat inserts which are held in place by expanding plastic wedges.
Chris found it a relatively simple job to fit them – the only tolls needed being an electric screwdriver and a rubber hammer and a gauge to check the gap. He installed the first inserts last September and has been pleased with the results after they have been used by two batches of pigs. Defra vets have inspected these houses and have passed them.
Chris found it simple to install QE’s new slat inserts into his existing concrete slat floors
In a trial these were deemed 97.7 percent successful so he ordered £10,000 worth of the inserts and has fitted 6,000. This is done between batches when the houses are empty. The slats are first thoroughly cleaned and allowed to dry. Due to wear the gaps tend to be irregular and, where they are badly damaged, Chris has found it helpful to mix up a slurry of 1 part cement and 1 part silver sand with a latex mixture and brush this into the damaged area to form a good seal. For areas around the trough where there are larger gaps then concrete with sharp sand and latex is used.
“We found it vital to ensure that the slat inserts were tightened down. “This ensures that the inserts are firm and that the pigs can’t get their snouts under them. Installation is the key to success,” he said.
He installed the first inserts last September and has been pleased with the results after they have been used by two batches of pigs. Defra vets have inspected these houses and have passed them.
Chris has been one of six farmers taking part in the trial use of these slat inserts, organised by BPEX who made the following comments: “BPEX has conducted an evaluation of both the slat slot reducers and slat slot closure devices on a number of farms and made welfare assessments on the pigs within the pens with them installed and parallel untreated (control) pens housing grower and finisher pigs over a number of months. This work has confirmed that, when correctly installed, the inserts provide an effective means for the floors to comply with current welfare regulations and the Defra Code of Practice for the Welfare of Pigs. BPEX is continuing its monitoring over a longer term”.
Chris Leamon with slat inserts
With tightening welfare regulations slat gap has become something of an EU-wide problem and Quality Equipment has started exporting quantities of the inserts to mainland Europe, following interest created when the company exhibited at EuroTier in Hannover last Autumn.