By Debbie James

Investing £220,000 in a modern pig unit with capacity to house 1,000 pigs has allowed a family-run farm to increase finishing weights and become more efficient.

Paul and Samantha Barcroft-Jones, who farm at Llanbabo on Anglesey, admit that without the investment they would not be in business today.

“It was either invest or get out, we needed to achieve target weights and keep our costs low because the prices in pig production are not the highest,’’ says Paul, the second generation of his family to farm 200-acre Llwynyrarth.

His parents, John and Christine, took on the tenancy of the county council farm in 1984 and later expanded the business by buying a nearby 70-acre farm.

Two years ago, the family had the opportunity to buy the farmstead and farmhouse from Gwynedd County Council and did so along with five acres of land. They continue to rent the remaining 185 acres of farmland.

In 2014 they had built the new housing, guided by ADAS. “Without ADAS this wouldn’t have happened,’’ Paul suggests.

They opted for a fully slatted temperature controlled building with automated feed systems, supplied by Staffordshire-based ARM Buildings Ltd. It has capacity to store five-months’ worth of slurry.

It replaced a system of old farm buildings. “They were far from ideal because they were cold for the pigs in the winter and hot in the summer,’’ says Paul.

The new unit is stocked with 225 sows. Until recently these were Durocs sourced as gilts from Rattlerow together with some large whites and landraces but the Barcroft-Jones’ have now switched breeds.

“We were getting the Durocs from Suffolk but it was too far to haul them so we are now using large white x landrace gilts from Tamworth.’’

There are advantages with each of the breeds, says Paul. “The large white is the fastest growing, what you might consider the Suffolk or the Charolais of the pig world, and the landrace is more prolific. The Duroc tends to be hardy and docile.’’

He describes the large white x landrace as “feisty’’.

“We are gaining some characteristics but losing others,’’ he explains.

All breeding is done through artificial insemination – around 34 sows are served every three weeks to a MaxiMus or Piétrain.

The Barcroft-Jones’s have a replacement rate of 45 per cent or higher, culling for rearing ability, mastitis, fertility and health issues.

They like to keep the herd young – sows produce an average of 2.4 litters a year, 25-26 pigs born alive, and they remain in the herd for an average of three litters. Those that achieve six litters leave the herd at that point.

The sows are fully housed on straw and farrow in a 40-crate farrowing unit on a three-week farrowing system.

One of the main key performance indicators is feed conversion efficiency. The target is to produce 1kg of liveweight from 2kg of feed. “A small pig has a more expensive diet but a higher feed conversion efficiency whilst a large pig has a lower feed conversion efficiency but the diet is cheaper,’’ says Paul.

Pigs are sold to four outlets. Up to 40 a week are supplied at 75kg deadweight at 20 weeks to C.S Morphets & Sons Ltd in Widnes and to Bowland Foods in Manchester and the Barcroft-Jones’s also supply a farm shop in Tapley, Cheshire. The remaining 50 per cent are sold to Woodheads.

One of the advantages of pig production is that it requires very little land. “If you purchase land it is very expensive and you have to make the money back from that land,’’ says Paul.

A pig system is also good for cashflow, he says, but as an unsubsidised sector it must compete with producers globally who have different welfare standards to those in the UK.

“There are different rules for different countries which makes it easier for producers in certain countries. For instance, the UK phased out stalls in the late 1990s but it took other countries a long time to follow our lead,’’ says Paul.

But, he adds: “The more efficient you are the more competitive you can be.’’