Keeping it in the family

I suppose the pig industry is different from any other agricultural sector in as much as there must have been more entrants to farming starting with a few pigs than anything else. That situation is still true today, and there’s no doubt that bed and breakfast pigs on a secure contract are the growth area in pig production.

Stuart Charlton, who farms a 200-acre arable unit near Northallerton, has never had anything to do with pigs previously, but due to a suggestion from his son Harry, who has just finished a course at Askham Bryan College, he has had two new, 1,000 place piggeries built side by side on a greenfield site. Each one is 15m wide and 60m long, with 20 pens in each at 50 pigs per pen. The new enterprise is aimed at allowing Harry to come home to join in the farming business, although he’s going to Bishop Burton College for a further year to take a pig course.

The Charlton’s contract has been secured through BQP, which has also advised and helped with the planning of these two superb new buildings. The design of the steel-framed buildings and pen layout is by Quality Equipment (QE) in conjunction with BQP. Shufflebottom has supplied and erected the steel framework and has fitted the concrete wall panels and put on the roof. Everything else has been done by QE.

BQP fieldperson Mark Jagger has had quite a lot of input into the project. He has been tasked with finding 40,000 efficient pig bed and breakfast places, and he assured me that by the end of the year BQP will have 100 buildings like this on its books.

Stuart Charlton will be able to use his own straw and will undoubtedly benefit from the manure. With this in mind, a huge concrete walled manure area has been constructed at one end, with drains for the run off. The surrounding area of the site is to be landscaped.

Due to planning restrictions to keep the site away from a Yorkshire Water borehole, the unit had to be built further back than anticipated, which meant the removal of 9,000t of soil as the eventual site was on a hilly part of the land. This has worked to Charlton’s advantage in as much as it will lend itself very well to landscaping, and any trees planted will screen the site well.

Stuart Charlton has had a borehole installed and because the water had a fairly high iron content, has also installed a filter system. Mark Jagger has also installed a system attached to the water supply that will allow for new arrival piglets to have sulphuric acid mixed into the water supply for the first weeks or however long is necessary. This has been proven in other units and reduces the number of antibiotics required.

There’s also a system fitted that monitors temperature, water and feed consumption per building, which will be attached to the computer and this will indicate budding problems, all of which will help with efficient management. One interesting feature was that the water drinkers in the pens are attached to the pen division door across the dung passage. This helps to keep the straw-based pens dryer and cleaner and is apparently healthier as they have done various bug counts in the pens on other units.

The pens have a dung passage at either side and have a central removable plastic division in the middle of the pen where the floor slopes 2.5cm from the centre to the dunging passage. This division is kept in place from when the piglets arrive until they need more room when they have the whole pen. The dung passage itself slopes towards the outside manure storage by 7.5cm end to end. A raised central walkway allows for inspection and for rolling the round bales along to drop straw into the pens.

A Weda conveyor system is attached to the two Collinson feed bins that supply the plastic hopper in each pen. And as there was an open day at the unit prior to the piglets arriving, the system was set going and to fill 40 hoppers from a cold start took some time. Keeping them topped up, however, will only take a matter of minutes. The feed hoppers are attached to the plastic pen divisions by a simple catch so they are easily removed for cleaning.


Galebreaker has installed its latest design and operating system for the side curtains that will work automatically to control the heat as temperature and wind speed is constantly monitored by what looks like a weather vane on top of each building. There are three levels available for curtain management from manual through semi-automatic, to the “Full Monty”, as in this case. It’s slightly dearer, but will be well worth the extra cost.

Berdex Lorry

The first 2,000 pigs arrived on two lorries; 300 on a conventional eight-wheeler and 1,700 on BQP’s state-of-the-art Berex trailer built in the Netherlands. You would never know it was a livestock lorry as it’s totally enclosed, and looks like a flower lorry or furniture removal van. It has three decks, is air-conditioned, has drinking water and a hot water supply also to be used after the lorry has been washed out with water up to 30°C to assist in killing any bugs left over after disinfection.

One of the interesting things about this vehicle is that the roof is actually raised hydraulically to enable the driver to have sufficient height to walk among the pigs while loading or unloading, to or from the tailgate lift. Once the top deck has been cleared, then the floor of the top deck is also lifted to give him access to the second deck and so on.

It’s ingenious, and I suspect expensive, but at least the pigs will not be susceptible to any foreign germs on their travels, nor will they be anywhere en route.

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