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Kate Mellor, AHDB KE manager, March 27, 2017

With regard to the risk of removal of ZnO from feed, for the moment at least, the guidance is all around mitigating risk of illness in the herd or within individuals. There is an excellent webinar with content from APHA and LMS on cleaning and disinfecting it’s also important to remember that cleanliness of the indirect environment whilst often overlooked is really key. How often to you clean the weighing scales, for example?

The living environment also has a big part to play. The buildings and environment team can help you understand your buildings, looking at your ventilation and thermal patterns and guiding on how you can optimize the environment for better health. To arrange a visit, contact 

For those producers who are milling and mixing their own rations, it’s worth taking time to look at grist size distribution. Avoiding stomach ulcers will bring benefits for feed utilisation as well as reducing aggression and improving welfare. There is a good case study looking at use of a Bygholm sieve to view here

Lastly, there are dedicated sessions on establishing weaners within the stockman training programme. For those who have already studied the course you may want to look out your course notes, for producers wanting to understand what training options are available from AHDB go to The weaner management module can be attended as a one off ad hoc session. Our knowledge exchange colleagues are also available to deliver on farm training, including specific aspects of weaner management, to contact KE email 

In the meantime you might want to view the helpful videos on establishing the weaned pig in the practical pig app.

Ellen Noakes,  AHDB Senior Marcomms Manager Pork, March 27, 2017

An update on eMB. Today we have added an additional “how to” video to explain how to use the eMB as a full medicines book. Click to view.

Following feedback, there has been a software update which will now allow retrospective data to be added to the system so users can enter their figures in any order. i.e. 2016 data followed by 2015 if they so choose.

Lastly, the knowledge exchange team would like to remind producers that they, and others at AHDB, are available to help with any specific questions or difficulties being experienced. Contact 

Stephen Tuer, March 27, 2017

John. I'm guessing that Tom is, like most of us, already doing or trying to do most of the things you recommend. And currently also using zinc, possibly with other meds immediately post weaning.
Unless we can raise our game beyond what current thinking deems possible we need more ideas and solutions in order to remove zinc without increasing other antimicrobials.
Are there novel solutions out there, adopted in other countries, better or different feed ingredients available, improved disinfection techniques,etc. Or is it a case that the U.K. will be the only ones to adhere, as usual?

Andrew Houston, March 27, 2017

Tom, it looks like I need to get those Unifeeders to you quickly. That will help cover half of John’s points!

John Mackinnon, March 26, 2017

Tom, what an interesting and important question you raise. It is also all embracing and really could be the subject of a book. What you are asking for are pointers on how to achieve success in probably the most difficult procedure in pig production, which is establishing the weaned pig. If this is achieved effectively, subsequent growth is usually trouble free. Working on the premise that at weaning the young pig is struggling to adapt physiologically, to establish an acidic environment in the stomach, to stimulate a new array of digestive enzymes, to establish a normal and beneficial gut flora and to develop its immune status, the last thing we should be doing is to give them antimicrobials. So, off the top of my head, the bullet points I would suggest to you are:

  • Remember that pigs are individuals, not part of a collective noun
  • Appreciate that most systems are designed for the convenience of the stockperson, not the pigs
  • Appreciate that young pigs retain their communal feeding and drinking habits for some weeks
  • Good weaning weights are essential. Aim for a total litter weight of 100kg. This in itself is another subject.
  • Ensure that no pig is weaned at a weight of less than 6kg
  • Which means that you must strive for a high level of uniformity at weaning
  • Wean as mature a pig as possible – as close to 28 days as you can get. This needs attention to farrowing spread and therefore management of the weaning-to-service interval
  • Avoid thermal stress at weaning, maintaining pigs in their thermoneutral zone at all times
  • Appreciate that pigs have a circadian rhythm. Provide night and day.
  • Ensure that feed intake is maximised – freshness, palatability, accessibility, lack of competition, little and often. Pigs won’t eat feed that smells and tastes of pigs, or any other taint
  • Avoid feed spoilage. Storage, exposure to air – small pellets have a large surface area, hygiene.
  • Feed specification, high digestibility, quality raw materials, uniform particle size
  • Clean water, easily accessible. Not a fecal soup.
  • Prompt action with sick pigs or pigs failing to thrive
  • Establish optimum group size for facilities available
  • Maintain good environmental control – freedom from thermal stress, draughts, insulation
  • Appropriate vaccination programme
  • Careful observation and stockmanship

Just some points off the top of my head. Other contributors may add more (or disagree).

Tom Allen, March 24, 2017

Sadly, whether right or wrong to ban zinc, it is all a bit irrelevant to be honest now if they likely ban it.  Obviously as a producer I would have preferred this not to happen (especially at a time when we are working our behinds off to reduce antibiotic usage) because of the great results we see from its ability to reduce weaner pig scours.

So more importantly what are our strategies going to be to counter the fact we can’t include it in diets and can’t utilise antimicrobials as much as we used to, yet we still want to retain growth and health in our weaners.

John, using your experience and knowledge give me some bullet point take home steps I can be pushing on my units.

John Mackinnon, March 23, 2017

Thank you Zoe and Richard for rising to the challenge! I think the problem with the whole subject of AMR is the assessment of actual risk to human health. The study of AMR has been a fund raiser for University departments since the first Swann Report was published in 1969 and it continues to be a source of money for research.

Of course it is important and of course antibiotics must be used judiciously and it is right that we control their use in pig production carefully, but I firmly believe that the jury is still out on whether or not the human population has been actually harmed by the use of antimicrobials to control infection in pig production. If the precautionary principle is applied to agents that have antimicrobial activity, and therefore potentially select resistance, it must be applied to them all.

To my mind, the precautionary principle is flawed by lack of science – better not to get out of bed in the morning than risk the vagaries of the day. So, where do we stand then with the knowledge that the czrC zinc oxide resistance gene enhances and probably selects colonisation with Staph. aureus (including MRSA) and Staph hyicus (Slifierz et al 2014 and 2015; Nair et al 2014)?  

Where do we stand with the knowledge that  zinc oxide increases the occurrence of tetracycline and sulphonamide genes in the intestines of weaned pigs (Vahjen et al 2015). Where do we stand with the knowledge that zinc oxide can cause marked perturbation of the gut flora of weaned piglets (Starke et al 2014)? Are not the pointers for zinc oxide similar to the pointers for conventional antimicrobials? I personally believe that the risk of using zinc oxide is low as I believe it is also with the proper use of antimicrobials , but the presence of risk has to be acknowledged.

If we are overly risk-averse, which I believe is the case with society in general nowadays, we must treat zinc oxide in the way that we treat other risks. This is precisely what EFSA and EMA are doing (see page 140 of the EFSA review – EFSA Journal 2017: 15 (1) 4666). When researchers are unsure of their findings, unsure of their conclusions or they want further funding, they suggest that further research is necessary. This is fine and is normally an honest assessment. Such is the case with the AMR story and such is the case with zinc oxide (Yazdankah et al 2014).

Richard Lister, March 22, 2017

Disingenuous not, pragmatic yes.
Those countries attempting to impose the removal of zinc are  using considerable amounts of colistin which hardly seems to be a desirable outcome.
Being on the moral high ground, now that is heady stuff.
Good to hear Philip hasn't lost the art of getting free consultancy!

Chris Leamon, March 22, 2017

Philip when you are doing your refurb of farrowing houses consider putting in Milk Cups from Opticare, we fitted them 20 months ago, using there feeding regime, and most importantly cleaning routines. We have seen big improvements in growth especially the smaller weaned pigs. At the same time withdrawing Zinc and reducing in feed medication as BPHS score now is very low. At this moment in time, its Win win, win.

Tim Bradshaw, March 22, 2017


In response to your question about sow feeders we are using a very simple ad lib system which seems to work well. We have a standard auto feed line, (we use compound pellets ), this fills a standard bottle. There is then a steel pipe that extends to the bottom of the trough with an approx 25mm gap at the bottom, you would need a flat bottomed trough.

You have to have a different drinker assembly whereby the nipple extends away from the trough so that no water can get in. The weighted ball that is normally on a string in the bottle is removed so that the sow has free access to the feed. We restrict the amount she can have via the scale slide on the bottle until a couple of days after farrowing ; from then on it’s ad lib.

Yes, some sows will play with the feed and get too much out but overall we are very happy with it and have good results in terms of litter weight and sow condition. We had the luxury of installing this in a 120 place new build having experimented previously in an older building.

Zoe Davies, March 21, 2017

John, thank you for your helpful contribution, as always. As you will be well aware, one of the points that the CVMP could not be sure on was the contribution of Zinc Oxide to co-selection for resistance because of a lack of evidence. Whilst we all accept that it would probably need to go at some point, right now is not the time. 

Our frustration was borne out of the fact that at the moment there is not enough evidence to ban Zinc, whilst there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our antibiotic use is too high and needs to be reduced in a sensible way. The Government has told us that we have to set challenging reduction targets this year. Pig farmers and their vets have in the main already responded really positively to that challenge, but clearly things will get more difficult which is why the removal of Zinc at the same time will not help!

John Mackinnon, March 21, 2017

You asked for comment on the Forum about zinc oxide. So, here goes as a debate starter - my comment is unlikely to be popular!

It is disingenuous of NPA to take the moral high ground on antibiotic use but at the same time support the use of zinc oxide.

Putting aside any concerns about environment pollution, the primary effect of zinc oxide in pig feed is antibacterial and, as such, it selects resistance to a wide range of antibiotics. Copper sulphate did the same thing and this was known back in the 1970s. The only difference I suppose is that zinc is used for a short period of time post-weaning, but that is the time when the young pig is struggling to establish beneficial gut flora and allowing resistant bacteria to colonise at this time is probably not a good thing.

Kevin Gilbert, March 19, 2017

Well done Philip. Something of a Scottish takeover. Wee Nicola would be proud of us!!

We too are going to be refurbishing our farrowing rooms. I take it you are meaning sow feeders? Microware has some interesting piglet feeders.

Philip Sleigh, March 19, 2017

I was wondering if anyone could help advise me on what feeders to use in our farrowing rooms. We are planning to refurbish them this summer and one feeder that has been offered is a GROBA AD-LIB, does anyone have advice on how good or otherwise they are? Or what would you recommend?

As Kevin has been unsuccessful in stimulating discussion I thought I would give this a try!!

Kevin Gilbert, March 17, 2017

My intention of firing up the Forum hasn’t worked. Come on AHDB. Surely someone there reads the Forum. Let’s hear about the plans to improve the eMB.

Kevin Gilbert, March 5, 2017

Good news about the eMB reaching 50%. Hopefully work is ongoing to improve it's user friendliness. Here in Scotland it has been compulsory to use it in our quality assurance scheme since the end of last year. Quality Meat Scotland would also like us to use it as our on-farm medicine book. However, so far it has been unfit for this purpose. Comments please! Let's try and keep the Forum going.

Nick White, February 9, 2017 

Yes, I was also there when TPT visited to lend support to our campaign with Winnie, and recall that Winnie playfully tried to nibble her leg (Hugh and I were quite jealous!).

I agree with Hugh that she was thoroughly professional and look forward to seeing any photographs that can be found of the occasion.

Hugh Crabtree, February 9, 2017

I'm very saddened by the news that Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has died. I expect quite a few of you will remember her contribution to our cause in 2000 in Parliament Square.

I confess at the time I was slightly surprised by Shandwick's (the company handling the vigil PR) choice of celebrity to help boost publicity for the industry's plight but I need not have worried. Tara was on time, actually knowledgeable about matters agricultural, co-operative and just good fun.

She certainly brought the press out. I have some good pictures of her on the stump with Winnie which I will ask Alistair to post when I have them scanned.

Meantime, on behalf of the NPA's then campaign group, my sincere condolences to Tara's family on her untimely death.

Hugh Crabtree, January 19, 2017

No pressure at all apparently! Excellent piece on the One Show last night and good job Richard and Duncan. Kershaw clearly nervous of the pigs - but they looked great and the whole thing a very positive message about the pig industry. Very well done.

Kate Morgan, January 10, 2017

An exciting and rare opportunity has opened up due to one of our fieldsman reaching retirement age! Pockmor is a successful and progressive family business who continue to grow through support from their excellent team.

The right candidate will have experience with nursery and finishing pigs and will be competent on farm machinery.

Dealing with pigs on a number of third party sites round East and North Yorkshire but also looking after 2 of our own sites.

A car, phone and good rate of pay awaits a reliable, loyal and forward thinking person.

Please contact Kate 07875 416842 for more information.

Richard Lister, January 6, 2017

No pressure then Hugh.

If we eventually make it to screen (the One Show) it is unknown at this point what part will be screened in the 4 minutes scheduled. Vet Duncan Berkshire put in an excellent performance and hopefully that will come across.

Hugh Crabtree, January 6, 2017

I expect a number of people heard Coilin Nunan interviewed on Farming Today this morning (link here). He of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.

It seemed to me that he was rather behind the curve with respect to what the UK pig industry is doing and has achieved in reducing antibiotic use.

If someone like him is as ill-informed as he appeared to be then it clearly highlights the need for the comprehensive action being advocated by the NPA and AHDB Pork.

Or perhaps he knows perfectly well and just used the opportunity to mislead in order to keep the pressure on.

He credited the poultry sector with success but implied pig industry bodies are in denial about the need even to be taking action. He also said that pig farmers need a change of attitude. Roll on next week when Richard Lister gets the chance to set the record straight.

David Turton, December 20, 2016

What severe financial pressures failed to do, Osteoarthritis has managed, to stop me keeping any pigs.

Having started in 1976, I have a lot of memories and experiences. If I may I will express my thoughts concerning the decline in fresh pork consumption and tail biting as reported on your website.

Decline in Pork Consumption.

  1. In my opinion the Medical profession have ruined meat quality. Their constant demands that meat should be very lean for human health purposes have led to meat being extremely tough and lacking in taste. This is especially so with Pork. Natural fat is part of natures design, it is a reserve of energy to be used in times of challenged health, helps keep the mammal warm, strengthens the immune system, and adds significantly to the succulence and eating quality of the meat.
  2. Back in 1976 there were three distinctive selling weights of pig. Porker, up to 45Kg deadweight, for fresh meat consumption. Cutter, up to 60Kg deadweight, again fresh meat consumption. Baconer, 75Kg deadweight, as the name implies for making Bacon and other processed products. This weight of pig was never sold as fresh pork. The meat trade paid a differential price accordingly. There was always 13>15p per Kg more for a Porker pig than a Bacon pig, what ever the average price.

Since the advent of the EU single Market in 1992, UK pig Farmers have been forced through economic circumstances to increase the weight of finished pigs, to the point where the average deadweight is near 80Kg. Thus the British public are being only being offered fresh pork from pigs that are of a ‘Euro standard weight’ which is too lean, lacks succulence and taste and is tough to chew compared to the tradition Porker-Cutter pig that was used pre 1992. The quality eating experience of fresh Pork by the consumer has been completely abandoned by both Retailer and Farmer.

In my opinion, there needs to be some form of return to how it was in pre 1992, if economically feasible. For succulence and taste a quality pig needs 10>12 cm back fat, plus intra muscular fat. Also Ad lib fed to slaughter. 

Tail Biting

  1. Breed of pig, the quieter in nature the breed is, the incidence of tail biting reduces.

  2. Feed, nothing fancy that will upset the gut. In Human terms, quality Bangers, Mash and fresh Broad beans. A feeling of contentment, enjoyment, and the need to have a damn good snooze after eating. It is said that a pig will eat anything. May be, but if it feels irritable and uncontended having eaten, it is more likely to ‘take it out’ on its mates. If the feed the pigs are given also causes loose faeces this can lead to tail biting.   

I always found it a huge pleasure to see pens of pigs contently asleep having eaten well, and enjoy the sweet smell of quality pig turd.

I share these thoughts of my observations over many years, some most probably will disagree, but I hope it might be of help.

Mick Sloyan, December 16, 2016

Approximately two years ago AHDB Pork embarked on a strategy to Rejuvenate the Image of Pork featuring Pulled Pork. The strategy was essential because the British pork industry faced (and still faces) issues with falling consumption of pork, while the chicken market has enjoyed a sustained period of growth.

That is why we are planning to spend an extra £1 million over the next 3 years to Rejuvenate the Image of Pork. The next phase will feature Midweek Meals.  The goal is to position pork as an ideal choice for midweek meals by creating dishes that are relevant to consumers and meet the midweek meal criteria, which places health, convenience and a less than 30 minute cooking time as priorities.  This is where the biggest challenge lies.

Marrying an industry need with a consumer one is a complex task, especially for the midweek meal, where pork currently struggles to feature.  It goes without saying that we need to spend levy wisely so we are currently undertaking in depth consumer research to ensure the campaign hits the right mark with the consumer.  We also need the support of processors and retailers and we believe the best time to run this high profile campaign will be September 2017.

Changing consumer perceptions about pork will take several years to be achieved, and we believe that the best way the industry can do this is for the entire supply chain to work together.

The new AHDB strategy document is currently open for consultation. To view the document, visit, consultation closes 9 January 2017.

Tim Bradshaw, December 14, 2016

The latest news item illustrating the decline in pork consumption strengthens again how vital it is that new pork dishes should be developed and brought to the market as soon as possible.

Pulled pork is all well and good but we simply cannot afford to be a one trick pony. I would challenge AHDB to to demonstrate to us exactly what pork dishes are in development, to which market they are being aimed at and when and how they will be launched.

Meryl Ward, December 13, 2016

For anyone who hasn't heard but might like to attend, the funeral of Judy Brent, the wife of well-know pig industry consultant Gerry Brent, will be held at 11.30 on Tuesday, December 20, at St Hilary's Church at Spridlington.

Zoe Davies on behalf of NPA, November 30, 2016

We were so very sad to hear about Gerry Brent’s untimely loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with him at this awful time and we want him to know that we are all here for him if we can help in anyway at all.

Richard Lister, November 13, 2016

What a great night again. A huge well done to Simon, John and the Pig world team for putting on another really great event for the British pig industry.

Well done to all those who entered the awards and helped to make the evening such a success.

Again, many thanks to all our AIG members for their support and making the night such an enjoyable occasion.

Personally, I was incredibly honoured (chuffed a la Yorkshire) to receive the Chris Brant Award.

Having been on the inaugural training trip on how to shutdown a distribution centre with CB  and a certain JC, it had a certain extra special meaning.

A big thank you and here's to prosperous pig farming.

Richard Longthorp, November 12, 2016

Another great National Pig Awards event and a big thankyou to John Lewis and his team for allowing us to incorporate the Chris Brant Award into the proceedings.

A self-confessed curmudgeonly, grumpy, old northern git, and initially ambivalent about the awards event, I have to admit that these awards have been a huge success. They have also given the Chris Brant Award the platform it needs to do full justice to those great people who receive it each year. 

And never could that be truer than this year when NPA Chairman Richard Lister and his team of wonderful ladies received standing ovations.

If we all stop and think about it, we all know they do a cracking job. But what a great opportunity to be able to tell them so. And 300+ people did just that on Wednesday night

From my vantage point at the front reading the citations I had the benefit of seeing the faces of Richard and his team as, about halfway through each citation, it suddenly dawned on them who I was talking about. And form a facial expression of “I wonder who it’s going to be”, it suddenly changed to an absolutely genuine and shocked “Oh my God, he’s talking about me”

And this is another characteristic of both Richard and the NPA “A” Team. Whilst they do a fantastic job, they all absolutely ooze humility and modesty.

The industry would be hard pressed to find better.

Stephen Hall, November 4, 2016

The vote to decide the distribution ratio of the finite, statutory levy fund is a vote carrying much import. 

Is it a ‘no brainer’? 

Selling more pig meat is the result of successful marketing. Experience indicates that enduringly successful marketing is based, in part, on the story that is told. Science is currently telling a fascinating story of the joining up of discoveries made over many years, that people all over the world will undoubtedly benefit from. The depth and breadth of the possibilities being explored along the various pathways in the study of the microbiome and DNA are beginning to shine a light on the future for livestock farming, as well as that of humankind. 

Before we commit to more money for more marketing we need to think about the story we want to tell. Some of that story will be rooted in the outcome of current and future research and development, proving and disproving, with integrity, meaning and myth. Building trust into our marketing message is a big part of the challenge facing us as an industry, across the board.

Tim Bradshaw, October 31, 2016 

I was able to question Meryl at last week’s NPA regional meeting and am pleased to say that she confirmed that new lines are being developed, but that it can take up to 12 months for any new product to be launched.

I do hope that this will be vigorously pursued through to the end and not left in a permanent state of development. Forgive my scepticism, but I remember someone telling me back in the late 90’s that MLC had loads of brilliant recipes and products in their Milton Keynes facility but that is where they remained!

Meryl also said that we should vote on how much of the AHDB budget should be spent on marketing; for me, this is a no brainer, ie, we should increase the percentage but I guess that a properly conducted survey should take place somehow.

Stephen Hall, October 29, 2016

One of the increasingly evident characteristics of pig meat, is its versatility. This application to innovation is a great strength. I agree with Richard it would be good to find a new partner. Today, however, pig meat is being consumed from fine dining through the community of the Barbeque to people on the move. 

My generation must embrace the ‘new-fangled’. Top chefs are peppering Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with mouthwatering images of their latest creations across every kind of eating experience. The food world does engage with pig meat and people engage with the food world. Heritage is one of many things that social media celebrates and as we know every tradition began with innovation, pig meat has history and its versatility continues to maintain its significance in the food chain. 

We should be publishing through this  new-fangled technology ‘10 things you didn’t know about Pork’; such is its versatility.

The first ‘10 things’ could go a long way to scotching long held myths about pork. Which reminds me I bought a scotch egg from a client’s farm shop and butchery a couple of weeks ago. It was food on the move. The egg was soft centered and the meat casing was finely chopped bacon, I am quite partial to a scotch egg and this is the best one I have ever eaten.

Richard Lister, October 27, 2016

Tim  is quite correct in that we were trying to create a new product development competition with a major retailer. This seemed to get bogged with the retailer and its inability to make decisions and get things done.
My view  is that we need to revisit this but with a different partner.
Many thanks to all those that attended and contributed to the regional meetings.
Feedback is hugely appreciated by the team in order to focus direction and understand what issues we need to address.

Tim Bradshaw, October 19, 2016

It would appear to me that the current happier prices we are receiving are purely as a result of the weak pound allied to a strong demand from China, ( blindingly obvious ) ; this may continue for several months, (hopefully), BUT it worries me that UK consumption of pig meat has not increased and EU consumption has fallen. So, what progress has been made on rectifying this in terms of producing suitable pork dishes for the convenience food market?

When my wife and daughter abandon me helpless and hungry , I usually nip down to M & S for a 20 minute heat up and eat special but I’m getting rather sick of fish pie and would like to see some pork escalopes or similar !

There was a competition to create a pork ready meal I seem to remember when times were hard a few months ago so I sincerely hope that proper product development is proceeding at pace.

Alistair Driver, October 17, 2016

I have received one or two messages suggesting the farrowing debate would be better continued in the members' part of the site. I'm inclined to agree. So for more, go to the members' area. 

Stephen Hall, October 15, 2016

designI was privileged to be amongst a well-attended Eastern regional NPA meeting this week. The content and quality of the evening is a credit to Zoe, Lizzie and Georgina. The passion evident in the constructive exchanges of discussion matched that of Victoria Morgan in her post below. It is grist to the mill. We are capable, as an industry, of success especially when such passion is drawn out. This is what gives our message its integrity and our industry its dignity.

We are not really confronting an either/or in most of the issues that we naturally face as an industry. It is more that we face defining the appropriate solutions to the relevant problems. Too much legislation can squeeze this, constraining possibilities before they have been properly and rigorously tested.

What Victoria says about the challenges of her system; the reality of market opportunity and the risk of opening up to the consumer and, the difficulty in trying to balance commercial efficiency and husbandry care, in the face of the perceptions of production systems, are accurately articulated.

However, it is the passion of her argument and that of others wherein a key may be worth exploring. One issue this week at the meeting was the subject of delaying sexual maturity in slaughter generation males. Deeper consideration is, at last, being given to the possible benefits of this for the industry, this is because the discussion is including not the just the cost versus cost efficiency, whether there is or isn’t improved performance, but also positive welfare and processing benefits. As Victoria says, on another issue, the sensitive aspect of this is opening up to the consumer. The current conclusion is that the retailers, being all powerful, have mounted a double guard at the equivalent of ‘Check-point Charlie’.

We are able to approach this from different angles and we can do this strengthened by the integrity and dignity that passion, authenticates. The UK is not self-sufficient in pig meat production. I believe it is produces about 40% of the requirement. The retailers stand sentinel, on the fact that British pig meat in the main, is just ‘stuck’ in front of the average consumer alongside the imported options. If we are only 40% of the requirement, then we only need to target 40% of the consumers. I know this is too simplistic initially but we need to think about which 40% we want to sell to and about how much of the 40% we produce we can genuinely target at the selective consumer.

The passion of Victoria Morgan and several other producers would speak over the heads of some retailers, whose own integrity has been publicly called into question in recent months, directly to consumers who are naturally more resourceful and, as a result, can afford better quality, are interested in making a responsible contribution to sustainability and developing skills in purchasing, cooking and sharing this expression of strong character. This week a further subject was the improvement of eating quality of British pig meat. At present we are trying to nail jelly to the wall in marketing not just our product, but ourselves because, in general, we do not, yet, have a handle on consistency and integrity of quality. At the same meeting we were assured by AHDB in their well-qualified contributions, that these issues are being pursued. It requires everyone to think as the people we want to sell our pig meat to, think. And engage directly with them.

Nigel Mears, October 14, 2016


Regards the freedom farrowing malarkey, it should be up to the stockman to decide on the welfare of his sows, some will be happy using one system, others will use something else, its called freedom of choice. Hell if we are happy with our system leave it be, we live in a democracy you know!!

Victoria Morgan, October 14, 2016

I am a strong believer in freedom farrowing and having operated 72 freedom pens every five weeks for the past 5 years feel I know quite a lot about it too! I am passionate about finding an alternative to the crate because I firmly believe a sow would prefer to farrow where she can exhibit her natural behaviour in terms of nesting particularly. 

I have shown a lot of people around our unit from industry experts to school children and teachers and the general public for open farm Sunday. Without fail they all prefer to see the sows in the freedom pens. Granted, most had no understanding of the financial implications but most hadn't ever seen farrowing sows in a crate - they have no idea how sows farrow and most are horrified to see them confined in a crate!

Our system has many flaws to it - we were never going to design the perfect pen first time, however, the sad reality is there is no market for this product and we are not in a position to redesign and build more without a long term customer. We all want people to eat more pork but no one is prepared to show people how we do it, we are scared of them seeing the realities of commercial indoor pig farming. 

Commercial Indoor pig production is based on numbers out of the door as cheaply as possible to compete with the imports. Freedom farrowing and for that matter straw based finishing does not fit this spec and probably never will in terms of efficiencies but I know what and how I would rather see my sows. Finally, I also farm 1200 outdoor sows and know exactly what it's like to farrow a sow outdoors..... in rain or shine!

Stephen Hall, October 13, 2016

The singular response of Mr Savile is interesting; ‘What this industry needs is a stable market’. History tells us that this has so far been unachievable and that we try to do our best through ‘marketing’ our product at the end of a trail, that increasingly leads some of today’s consumers and anti-livestock farming lobbyists back to the farm. In the UK we are far from self-sufficient in pig meat production, this requires a marketing strategy that differentiates us from our global competition. The invention of the British premium, originally predicated on the outdoor production system which is intellectually a primary factor relative to the rules politicians derive to assuage the consumer, is being consigned to the same history that teaches us that a stable market is virtually impossible. Marketing will not succeed as a prevention it must ultimately provide the cure.
Mr Savile asks that, ‘we keep freedom farrowing out of the spotlight and concentrate on ways which you could make this industry more sustainable’. I would go further and suggest that we turn all the spotlights off. Politics is not the new mathematics. Politics cannot answer every question. Both the appeal and the intelligence of politics is increasingly limited, deluding only its authors.
Farmers in Essex are having to re-plan for failing Autumn sowing of hundreds of acres. The temperate climate of the UK will, thankfully, enable this. In the same way this climate has, in comparatively recent times, produced an industry with an almost 50/50 ratio of indoor to outdoor production, which has focussed the welfare possibilities. The global ratio of these production systems is more likely to be 99/1 and, if welfare is to be the primary concern of the consumer, politically speaking, you can bet your bottom dollar the 99 will use marketing to level the playing field as much as possible against the 1.
With all the spotlights turned off, our industry politicians need to engage with their constituency at a far deeper level and begin answering questions that are more important than freedom farrowing. Questions that focus on the balance of efficiency and care not just practically but in the minds of consumers. Bearing in mind what the global production is currently either doing or considering carefully, a far more important question relates to legislation involving male and female slaughter generation pigs and a solution widely accepted by producers and consumers. In the UK it has been stonewalled for too long. The Weekly Tribune succeeded in getting an agreement for a derogation to be granted. But there is still a draconian attitude to this and we are in the 11th hour of opportunity. The regulation of the oestrus cycle is common practice and has enhanced the balance of efficiency and care. I suggest that there is a contradiction in the acceptance of this by our politicians and the current sense of rejection surrounding the regulation of sexual maturity in the slaughter population.

Geoff Saville, October 12, 2016

Reading recent posts and after reading the recent article in pig world makes me think what the hell is going on. The supermarkets continue their price war the consumer is always looking for cheaper product and we want to add cost to production. What this industry needs is a stable market environment which encourages investment and allows the next generation to take this industry forward not a political project just designed to make the minority happy.

Keep freedom farrowing out of the spot light and concentrate on ways which you could make this industry more sustainable. As you can tell I am not political just a realist without my head stuck into blue sky thinking. Just for the record I have had freedom farrowing crates and they do not work, they create higher mortality, the sow is more stressed and as for nesting please tell me how you can get a sow to nest when they are on slats, if you want freedom farrowing put your sows outside. The best thing I did was to scrap the crates.

Stephen Hall, October 9, 2016

Meryl, I would argue that I have not missed the point of the welfare of the sow. This factor would be covered in the design of the ‘confinement’ accommodation. The natural requirements of the sow must be included in the definition of the nature of confinement. I have raised the fact that pre-weaning mortality, when measured indicates that there must be a rethinking of management practice/expectation, that includes the ‘welfare’ of the sow, the piglet and the farmer’s business.  What has been decided with little recourse to science or pig producers, is that ‘non-confinement’ is non-negotiable, characteristic of a political decision. This is predictable, with no room given for atypical thinking. No amount of increased stimulation of oxytocin and prolactin, or immunoglobulin for that matter, is going to address the statistics that I have reported.

Your direction of travel does not seem that compelling. Sweden are the only country in your list to feature in the AHDB international costings publication, and they have one of the highest production costs. The concept of a voluntary 10% of Danish farmers within 5 years, and the obedience of Austrian farmers by 2033 is not a migration that causes too much anxiety. What are the ‘potential’ opportunities. That much vaunted opportunity the ‘premium’, has been subsumed in the European, jostling for an appealing market position in relation to the consumer. I assume that opportunity means a sympathetic governments’ support. If this is so, we urgently need to know more as we are entering, what is historically, an increased investment stage in the cyclical economics of pig production.

The political imposition of any system can be simultaneously, triumphant and catastrophic. Intellectually and emotionally ‘freedom farrowing’ is a ‘no brainer’ but this does not guarantee any overall improvement in the consumer perception of the production of pig meat or the safety of those endearing little piglets they adore. The statistics that I reported do little to foreshorten the practical implications of this decision. The challenge for every pig farmer is the balance of exploitation and nurture, to be efficient and to care. We wean sows to exploit them and we mate sows to nurture them. This characterizes the work of a pig farmer and the requirement of the consumer.Pig farming is about indefinite and dependable production, a philosophical prerequisite of the nature of the demand for food. Exploitation is as little work for as great a gain, and nurture is a reasonable balance between the time taken and the standard reached that is sustainable on all levels. It is an equation of quantity over character.

I am encouraged by the last part of statement that you make in your reply; our customers would expect Government and industry to work to reconcile the disconnect of science, economics and public perception.’

In my previous forum post I made reference to having raised issues through journalistic opportunity, I have worked for over 45 years in this industry, yet I do not feel included the industry effort to reconcile the critical disconnect that you rightly, raise. Of course we cannot have a world and his wife consensus, nothing would get done. What disappointed me about what I read in Pig World, as much as the subjects themselves pleased me, was the sense that, animal welfare will, through elevated cost, drive production into fewer hands and standard UK pig meat production become increasingly endangered by the wide variation in the financial and social status of the individual consumer. We must not humanise the pig beyond the natural order. Animal health and welfare, if it is not properly considered will irreparably damage the balance of efficiency and care, in order to achieve a triumphant political end in a catastrophic market. It is not as ridiculous as it might appear to suggest that the issue of animal welfare in food production, instead of uniting actually has the potential to further divide the industry, body and soul.

Meryl Ward, October 9, 2016

Stephen highlights a valuable debate on free-farrowing.  There are two main points, I would like to address.  Firstly to put the spotlight on the focus that ‘totally free farrowing’ or ‘temporary crating for the first few days’ is receiving in other countries, mostly achieved with substantial Government support.

Some countries – Sweden, Norway and Switzerland - have already moved away from confinement.  Others have plans in place too through voluntary measures – Denmark 10% by 2021 – and legislation e.g Austria by 2033.  Given that producers invest in buildings for a life-span of 20 years plus, it would be wrong not to flag the direction of travel and potential opportunities. 
Stephen’s article misses the point that confinement of the sow before and during farrowing is a welfare issue for the sow as it prevents the sows in-built need for ‘nest building’ behaviour. Emerging science suggests that allowing the sow to nest build also has production benefits. Strategic use of large amounts of nest building materials may stimulate shorter farrowings through production of higher levels of oxytocin and prolactin.

This may result in lower stillbirths with more viable piglets as they access the teats quicker.  If the sows produce colostrum more efficiently, piglets may be healthier through higher levels of immunoglobulins or as a minimum grow faster through better milk let-down. 
There is a long way to go to realise the benefits whilst keeping piglets and stock people safe but our customers would expect Government and industry to work to reconcile the disconnect of science, economics and public perception.’

Alistair Driver, October 8, 2016

Interesting comments from AHDB Pork's Stephen Howarth in response to Richard's Lister's calls for a fairer EU price comparison (see news article, October 8). Will be very interesting to see what comes out of this work.

First port of call will be to establish just how marked the differences are. If they are on anything like the scale Richard calculates this needs to be addressed and quickly. Anyone else have any thoughts on this, to back Richard up (or otherwise!).

And Stephen Hall's observations, below, on this but also farrowing crates are well worth a read. As the author of the farrowing crate article, all I would add is that those at the free farrowing conference believe one of the drivers for this is public opinion. Or, at least, a belief, if it isn't now it will be soon. 

The question being asked was, can we find alternatives that are more acceptable to the public and work for the sow and for the farmer. The answer at the moment appeared to be no, especially in the absence of any notable supply buy in. But the work continues. 

Stephen Hall, October 6, 2016

Pig World dropped through my door today and it made gratifying reading to see so many of the issues I have raised, in Weekly Tribune in recent months, being reported as making it onto the industry agenda re: pricing structure and industry reform, and pig meat eating quality or into specific articles that include mention of carcass rectification, a cohesive plan driven by outcome and collaborative management strategy meetings that include all the stakeholders of a business. But then I read of the continuing search for the Holy Grail (or at least another one to go with the one Monty Python pursued many years ago). The whole search for the answer to Freedom Farrowing is predicated on the freedom of the sow to express itself, naturally? We all know the historic outcome of that as well as the current outcome for outdoor producers still grappling with arc design.


Why are we basing all of the argument on the need to release the sow? Freedom Farrowing misses the point of efficient and welfare effective production of pig meat. The focus must be on ‘freedom lactation’ and the optimum welfare friendly point at which this is compulsorily introduced following a confined parturition of indoor sows.


I carried out some detailed analysis of pre-weaning mortality data from a single indoor unit a few years ago and the results made interesting reading.


The percentage of piglets laid on of the total number of piglet deaths in the report period was just shy of 53%. Within the first three days’ post farrowing, 89% of these deaths occurred, this increased to 91% in the first week. A further 11% of deaths were attributed to piglets recorded with a low-viability at birth. Not surprisingly 97% of these died within the first three days and 100% within the first week. This statistic accounts for 64% of pre-weaning mortality and I believe that greater research would conclude a similar result. A further 12% of piglets were lost to scour, 58% of these pigs died in between days 4 and 14 with less than 20% dying in the first 3 days. The only other significant cause of piglet loss recorded was starvation at 10% of which 83% died in the first 14 days. The combination of recorded defect, 3.7% and miscellaneous 6.3% adds a further 10%. Of piglets recorded with a defect 77% understandably died in the first three days and the deaths recorded as miscellaneous were fairly evenly distributed throughout lactation. Crate or no crate, management practice impacts as much as the 40% of piglet deaths attributed to a combination of recorded non-viable pigs (should these be recorded as alive?), scouring, savaging and miscellaneous. In all 96 % of piglet deaths in this analysis died from being laid on, being recorded as non-viable or defected, scours and starvation and unexplainable. The significant statistic is that 70% of the piglets died in the first three days. A further 20% died between days 4 and 14. The design and cost of freedom farrowing is, respectively, a pointless conundrum and threatening imposition without justification. Better (first week) crate/pen design, and facing the real challenge for management of a 24/7 shift structure for farrowing days that could revolutionize the working week in indoor pig production, in what to be fair is becoming a 24/7 working world, are the considerations we should be making as an industry. It is encouraging that the industry