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Congratulations to the 2019 Farmers Weekly Pig Farmers of the Year

4th Oct 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Michael and Ian BakerMichael and Ian Baker pics: Tim Scrivener

Norfolk outdoor pig producers North Farm Livestock picked up the prestigious Pig Farmer of the Year honour at last night’s Farmers Weekly awards.

The 763ha part-owned, part-tenanted farm, owned by brothers Michael and Ian Baker, has 3,200 sows spread across three breeding herds, as well as 15 finishing sites producing 1,800 pigs a week. The pigs are sold at 105kg to Tulip, mainly for Waitrose.

Two further breeding sites are planned, set to take the number of pigs produced per week to 2,500.

The judges, who include NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the excellent management throughout every part of the Holt-based farming enterprise was ‘a winning formula for running a high-health, high-welfare pig system with production figures envied by many indoor producers’.

There is no doubt the high health status and production of this herd wouldn’t be where it is without the attention to detail from the enterprise’s 38-strong team.

North Farm beat off stiff competition within a strong shortlist that also included Lee and Geraldine Chafer, from Lincolnshire, and Gary Young, from County Tyrone. You can read more about the finalists here 

The win was founded on strong management. Ian comes from a background as national head of agri-food for Barclays, which combined with Michael’s knowledge of pigs makes a ‘perfect management duo’. They have dedicated department heads and deputy managers running the breeding, finishing and logistics teams.

The business has only had to advertise once for staff in the past 15 years, reflecting the career prospects, additional benefits and good working conditions for staff, who only have to work one in every three weekends.

A few years ago, a profit-share scheme was introduced to replace the Christmas bonus. About 10% of the yearly profits are now split between the staff and the amount they receive is dependent on the time they have worked on the farm, their role and salary. Michael and Ian also hold team away days.

Michael and Ian Baker 2Ian and Michael have also built good long-term relationships with their 15 landlords - crucial when farming in an area where competition for land is high.

All sows are culled after their sixth parity, followed by a full depopulation and repopulation. The single-parity breeding groups help maintain high herd health, with most pigs leaving the farm without ever being treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics use has been cut to 4mg/kg. The business also has below-average pre-weaning mortality figures of 8.5% and 3.17% in the finishing herd. Pigs have solid growth rates averaging 824g a day.

Low stress levels across both the breeding and finishing herds also aid herd health. The dedicated gilt-mating units are set out the same as the breeding herd – in paddocks – which means when gilts are moved on to one of the breeding units, there is no major change.

The good management is evident in the breeding success, with 12.43 piglets born a litter and 26.7 piglets weaned a sow a year, on average.

Stocking densities are low on the finishing sites at 50sq m a pig, compared with the RSPCA minimum standard of 12sq m a pig. The Bakers leave a space between each finishing paddock, which limits contact between batches of pigs, improves biosecurity and helps cut antibiotics use. They have also taken on extra land that houses no pigs, to create a barrier between herds.

Judge Zoe's view

Zoe, who again performed her role as an independent judge, said: “The team approach at North Farm Livestock is central to the success of this high-welfare, free-range pig operation. Ian and Michael complement each other in their abilities and run a pig enterprise that has production figures envied by many indoor producers.”