By Debbie James

A Whitland pig farmer has lifted herd performance since investing in a range of improvements to housing.

Luke Starkey converted former dairy herd buildings at Cilpost Farm into pig accommodation for a farrow-to-finish unit for 180 large white/landrace cross sows.

All the sheds have straw-bedded pens.

“We could reduce our cost of production by having slats but I believe welfare is higher on straw, it adds a bit of warmth and the pigs are very happy,’’ says Luke.

A 24m x 18m building previously used as winter housing for dairy cows is now a finishing shed with 16 pens.

Gale breakers allow the temperature to be controlled – there are five down each open side, which are opened and closed according to weather conditions.

The 10-pen sow building was a silage building.

“We did much the same as with the finishing building, removing all the internals but we raised the floor to bring it to the same level as the other sheds,’’ says Luke.

A galvanised steel observation platform runs the entire length of the building, 2.4m above the floor of the pens to allow the pigs to be observed without disturbing them.

Pigs are weaned at four weeks and the entire batch of weaners are housed in the weaner accommodation.

“This has five pens but we open the building up to start with, to allow the batch to run together,’’ Luke explains.

“At this stage, we bombard the building with feeders and add additional cube drinkers – as this is a very stressful time for piglets it’s crucial we do everything to make life easier for them.’’

Three weeks after weaning, pigs are grouped in the five pens according to size and, at 12 weeks, they move into a grower building which has a similar layout.

The new accommodation has given Luke more control over management and performance.

“Our sow performance has increased considerably,’’ he says.

The herd has a scanning rate of 89 per cent, an average of 13.23 live-born pigs per litter and 11.2 pigs weaned per litter.

There are just 25,000 pigs in the Welsh national herd, down from 300,000 in 1972, but with a population of three million people Luke says there are good opportunities for growth.

“We are aiming for 350 sows to produce a minimum of 600 pigs in every batch,’’ he says.

“We are currently working towards sending 75 to slaughter every week, 350 sows would give us 200 which is a full artic load.’’