Pig health and welfare underpin herd expansion

Adam Marshall, who grows alongside his father Adam and brother Charlie, is committed to a future in pig farming. Together they are increasing their pig herd from 215 sows to a 280 sow indoor farrowing-finishing unit in the Scottish Borders, with an approach based on continuous review and improvement and an openness to try new ideas.

The overall objectives are to improve efficiency, minimize risk and maintain as much control as possible over production costs and margins. They prioritize pig health management as the foundation of herd performance and add value by marketing some of the pigs in their own pig roasting shops.

Close collaboration with neighboring farmers helps to share costs and resources. Herd expansion included investing in a freestyle calving system to help further improve productivity and secure the business against changes in welfare legislation.

See also: Tips for switching to temporary crating when pressure builds

Farm facts

  • 526 ha (1,300 acres) arable, of which 85 ha (210 acres) are owned
  • Breeder-finisher herd of 280 sows with DanBred genetics
  • Pigs finished on the arable farm of the neighbor who benefits from the slurry
  • Total 150 pigs currently sold each week
  • Three shops in Edinburgh selling roast pork under their Oink brand
  • A biomass boiler heats both pigsties and farms
Liberty style farrowing room

Sows lie more comfortably in the new farrowing pens © Adam Marshall

The pig unit is mainly slatted, with dry sows and gilts housed on straw. There are electronic feeders for dry sows and gilts and an ad-lib system for all farrowing sows, while growing pigs are on a Schauer Spotmix phased wet / dry feeding system.

“We’re always thinking about where we can be more efficient and use technology, where we can, to help reduce the workforce,” Marshall said.

Based on DanBred genetics, the breeding herd averages 17.6 piglets per litter born alive and 15.9 pigs weaned per sow, with a forecast of over 32 pigs sold per sow per year by the end of 2021.

Freedom style maternity pig with temporary cage

Freedom style farrowing pen with temporary cage © Adam Marshall

Protect the health of pigs

Protecting pig health is a key priority for the company, he says. “Disease issues can really affect financial performance, not only because of the cost of treatment, but also because pigs grow slower and need to be fed longer. “

Strict vaccination and biosecurity measures are in place to prevent disease, following significant investments in new buildings throughout the unit and the resupply of healthy pigs in 2012.

The family runs an all-inclusive system, with rigorous cleaning and disinfection. Each farrowing room has a one week break between batches to help reduce the risk of disease. A PTO driven dual lance pressure washer allows for a quick turnaround time to disinfection, allowing pens and equipment time to dry properly.

They also pay close attention to vehicle traffic. For example, the ore truck does not come to the farm because deliveries are made at the entrance. No cattle truck comes to the breeding unit as the farm has a trailer to move the pigs to the separate finishing unit.

Boots are changed and disinfected between sheds and clean coveralls are always worn at the entrance to the pig unit.

The purchased replacement gilts are quarantined for four and a half weeks, well away from the Marshalls unit on a beef and mutton farm in the Lammermuir Hills, where they are subjected to health tests before entering. in the herd of sows.

Sows receive a combined vaccine against erysipelas, parvovirus and leptospirosis after farrowing. This is also given to the gilts on arrival. No other sow vaccines are used, and this minimum level of vaccination keeps costs down, says Mr Marshall, with each vaccine costing around £ 1 per pig.

Zinc was removed from piglets’ diets after weaning seven years ago, and although they see a small amount of loose faeces, the situation is manageable. “The strength and weaning age of the piglets is crucial and we regularly check the pH of the water in the weaning pens and acidify it to maintain the correct level,” he says.

Edema disease and Lawsonia are the two main diseases of current concern and vaccinations are used successfully against both. The farm was one of the first in the UK to use the Lawsonia injectable vaccine in weaners 18 months ago, and it has proven to be more consistent than the oral vaccine used previously.

Last year, Mr. Marshall became an MSD Growing Healthy Pig Ambassador, and the family continues to look for ways to improve his health. They are currently renovating the farm office, showers and parking lot.

Adam Marshall, Adam Marshall Senior and Charlie Marshall

From left to right: Adam Marshall, Adam Marshall Senior and Charlie Marshall © Ron Stephen Photography


“With three of us having to live on the 210 acres we own, collaboration and contract farming at the local level has helped make the business more sustainable,” said Marshall.

The pigs are moved to a nearby arable farm for finishing, with two of the sheds owned by the Marshalls and the other two leased. They also share machinery and labor under a contract farming deal with a neighbor, whose rotation includes rye and barley, which are fed for the pigs. About 40% of the diets consist of cereals grown on site and also include by-products from a local flour mill.

The neighbor also benefits from spreading the pig slurry from the finishing sheds onto the arable land.

Add value

In the late 1990s, when pork prices were very low, the family started an on-farm shop in partnership with a good friend and sheep farmer, to diversify and add value, says Mr. Marshall Snr. . When foot-and-mouth disease made the farm’s store unsustainable, they bought two existing butcher shops before starting Oink, their roast pork business, in 2013.

They now have three stores in Edinburgh and keep their offering simple, selling teas, coffees, beer and roast pork rolls to take away. Currently, they sell about 25 pigs a week via Oink – only about half the amount before the pandemic – and tourism has yet to pick up.

A small number of pigs go through their own butcher’s shop via meat crates and the rest are sold through the Scotlean Marketing Co-operative. They benefit from multiple market access routes, which helps to balance risk.

The farm has 32 new freedom style farrowing pens which allow the sow to be temporarily closed to protect the piglets during farrowing. The Marshalls limit this period to six days, just before giving birth.

With proper management, piglet mortality has so far been very similar to that of their conventional cages, Marshall reports. Piglet weight at weaning improved by at least 500 g on average; the sows are lying more comfortably in the new farrowing pens and their feed intake has increased.

Although this is a significant financial investment, he believes it is the right decision in the long run, improving both the welfare and productivity of sows and piglets. “You also see a difference in pigs until finish, starting with a stronger piglet at weaning,” he says.

The family plans to build more housing for producers when funds allow. It has always been important for them to finance their investments themselves rather than borrowing, whenever possible, and they have also done much of their construction work themselves.

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