Mark's passion for pigs and pig farming is now recognised and appreciated throughout the industry. Totally dedicated to pig welfare, he styles himself as “The voice of the pig” and never tires of helping to promote the adoption of systems that benefit both health and welfare.
Pioneering clean water for pigs is an ongoing passion for Mark. But not just for the farmers who rear pigs for BQP.
"The pig industry is very close-knit”, Mark says. “My argument is that anything we develop that is good for the health and welfare of our pigs should be shared with our neighbours, giving them the tools to help improve the health of their herds too. We all benefit in the end".
Kirsty is a fieldsperson for Stockcroft, one of the largest producers of outdoor bred pigs in the UK. Following birth outdoors and weaning from the sows, Stockcroft piglets are raised in straw-based barns by over 80 contract producers.
Working closely with all these producers, Kirsty is very proactive in the promotion of RSPCA welfare standards and is constantly recommending new ideas for enrichment for the pigs and for further welfare improvements. Even in the top-performing units, there is a constant push to improve.
Hristo is described by his colleagues at the Mutimer Partnership as a “brilliant, conscientious stockman and a credit to the team”. He achieves excellent weaning numbers and weights, paying particular attention to the straw bedding in the farrowing huts, adding extra straw daily if required and cleaning water drinkers and feed troughs weekly. His attention to detail is very precise and he shows exceptional compassion to the sows in his care.
Sean is a breeding manager for LKL farming in Lincolnshire, praised by his colleagues for constantly striving to do the best for the pigs under his care and inspiring the same attitude in his staff.
He maintains remarkably high levels of welfare in his pig units. This results in healthier stock and leads, in turn, to better farrowing rates, higher litter weights and lower mortality.
At the tender age of 23, Ben leads a team of six, managing an RSPCA Assured outdoor breeding unit with 1,500 sows for Norfolk Free Range.
“Young stockmen are hard to find”, said Mark Robertson, an RSPCA Assured assessor, “and it’s great to see a young British lad so interested in working with pigs, and so willing to learn to be the best he can be. It’s also really pleasing to see people not brought up in agriculture, getting a chance to prove you don’t have to be born into farming to be good at farming”.
Until recently, Callum was farm manager for Wimpole Home Farm. With his team of seven staff and many volunteers, he carried on the work of his predecessor, bringing about significant change in the natural environment by increasing the carbon mass stored in the soils and shifting the estate from a net source of greenhouse emissions to a net sink.
Wimpole Home Farm hosts about 350,000 visitors a year - including the general public, politicians, civil servants, industry leaders and the wider farming community, all looking to understand more about how food can be produced sustainably. The farm’s high welfare reared livestock help to promote the recovery of wildflowers in the 500 acres of Grade 1 listed parkland and hay meadows, as well as building fertility and soil health in the 1,000 acres given over to organic arable farming.
One of the first members to join RSPCA Assured, when it was set up 27 years ago, Cameron’s approach to rearing pigs was inspired by his father who helped pioneer outdoor pig breeding in the 1950s. From the start of his farming career, Cameron was determined to rear his pigs to the highest possible welfare standards and show the world what he was doing.
Up to 100 people a year visit the farm and it’s important to Cameron that as many people as possible understand and appreciate the benefits of farming animals well and see first-hand how they do things and what a difference it makes.
Visitors see well-managed paddocks that are frequently rotated, where the pigs can fully express their natural behaviours: rooting in the grass and straw and wallowing in big, natural pools of water. The planting of pollen nectar mixes has led to an explosion of wildlife alongside the pigs, leading to a huge increase in deer, hares, buzzards and kites, along with a carpet of wildflowers, attracting masses of bees.
Mark’s farm is off-grid and runs almost entirely on solar, including the farmhouse, all the farm buildings and the electric fencing. Surplus power is stored in a battery bank, supplying them with all their needs for about ten months of the year, covering their pig and sheep operation and their apple juice and cider business. It is supplemented by a backup generator for the remaining two months. This runs for around 2 hours a day to recharge the batteries when the weather is poor.
Rainwater is harvested for the pig wallows, allowing the pigs to keep cool and express their natural behaviour. Currently, this totals 60,000 litres, but the aim is to increase this to 100,000 litres this year. The breeding sows now also have wooden arcs made from certified sustainable timber.
Agricultural Director for The Lakes Free Range Company, Roger presides over an ongoing programme of improvements in hen welfare and in creating a more sustainable environment. Roger says: “After years of working with poultry, I’ve learnt that every day is a ‘school day’. So, I make sure I keep an open mind and constantly challenge why and how we do things”.
Shropshire based Will Lea is employed by Country Fresh Pullets as a fieldsman. He works with all the individual producers who rear pullets, essentially ‘teenage’ hens - for Country Fresh, a subsidiary of Lloyds Animal Feeds and works hard to improve welfare standards on all the farms.
He is known for putting the welfare of the birds as his top priority. With an in-depth understanding of the RSPCA welfare standards for pullets, he works closely with every producer to ensure standards are met, and often exceeded.
David Wilson, passionate about first-class stockmanship, bird welfare, hygiene and biosecurity, took over the management of Hamish Morison Poultry on the Scottish Borders four years ago. There he set about implementing a series of changes that have positively impacted on the welfare of the hens under his care.
He has introduced a wider variety of enrichments to keep his birds stimulated – including pumpkins and Christmas trees. He has also installed hanging enrichment under the veranda areas as well as pecking blocks and straw - all to encourage “the girls” to venture onto the range.
The ranges have also been improved with better drainage and fencing to keep out predators, and additional tree planting to add natural cover.
David says: “My staff have been fantastic and fully embraced the changes I have implemented. They are committed and passionate and I couldn’t run the sites the way I do without them”.
The hens on Michael’s family farm, near Morpeth, enjoy a range planted with trees to provide cover and shelter; grass kept at different lengths to provide a choice of vegetation and habitat; shelters, branches and dustbathing areas near pop holes to encourage the birds to range. They also enjoy a dozen different kinds of enrichment in the hen houses, twice as much as is called for in the RSPCA welfare standards.
Stephanie works with the fieldsmen, producers and farm workers, who rear turkeys for Gressingham. Her role includes helping all of those involved in rearing the birds, to fully understand and adhere to the RSPCA welfare standards.
Her approach ensures all understand the key points of legislation, production and assurance standards governing the rearing of livestock - and for the field staff, she instils an in-depth understanding of all the requirements, thus enabling them to assist the individual growers and their stock people.
She is described by her colleagues as honest, open and a great communicator - and she has earned the respect of everyone she works with.
Patrick Lynn and his wife Esther are proud of what they do on their Nottinghamshire farm and before Covid, they hosted around 100 visits a year from the local community including schoolchildren and from overseas, including China and Japan
Visitors see their 43,000-strong flock of hens enjoying a range planted with hundreds of native trees and hedgerows – all providing shade and shelter for the birds.
Inside the sheds, the Lynns provide the best environmental enrichment possible to keep the birds stimulated and active. They have experimented with many types of enrichment and find that anything red made from plastic works particularly well. So, visitors are likely to see red watering cans or drums suspended on ropes from the roof of the hen houses or scattered amongst the bales of straw.
Running Minskip Farm Shop and Yolk Farm Kitchen, an award-winning farm shop and restaurant in North Yorkshire, this enterprising and sustainability-conscious couple also have a flock of laying hens that supply eggs to the shop and cafe.
Their lucky hens have double the amount of space required to comply with RSPCA welfare standards as well as a huge paddock, planted with trees to provide shelter. In their temperature-controlled hen house, their birds are provided with a range of what they call ‘toys’ – various forms of enrichment to keep the hens stimulated.
But aside from their laudable approach to sustainability and to the welfare of their hens, this couple is passionate about “connecting real farming with the consumer”, working very proactively with local schools and with members of the public through farm visits and events and via their social media pages.
Louise works with her husband John and son Donald in their family farming business in Scotland. Their aim is to create a resilient and sustainable farm.
Their two hen houses are heated by a biomass boiler, fuelled by straw from their arable operation. The boiler also dries the farm’s grain and feeds into the heating system for houses on the farm.
They also produce their own feed for the hens, giving them close control over their nutrition as well as lowering feed and transportation costs and CO2 emissions.
There is a wind turbine on the farm and a solar array on the range – generating all the electricity used on the farm.
Field margins make up 5% of the farm and greatly help to improve biodiversity, with wildflower mixes used for the range. And 18 kilometres of native hedges have been planted as well as improvements made to existing hedges – all are cut on a three-year rotation to allow winter feed for birds.
Zero tillage is a system in which seeds are directly deposited onto untilled soil which retains the previous crop residues. This is the approach taken on Clive and Elizabeth’s 650-acre farm. It is at the heart of conservation agriculture and results in improved soil, with less compaction, allowing for much better drainage.
There is also an increase in retention of organic matter and worm life and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This approach to soil management, including the overwintering of stubble, also makes for an attractive habitat for wildlife. Their flock of free-range hens are part of their quest for sustainable farming. Their manure goes back to the fields and in turn, the enriched soil, full of plump worms, encourages the birds to range extensively, thus improving their welfare.
Bedfordshire egg producer Charles Mear and his wife Jo, have an impressive track record in sustainability. Striving to make the farm carbon-neutral, they have invested in many initiatives to achieve this, including the use of alternative energy sources for the farm; the milling of the hens’ feed on-site; use of local labour and the installing of an anaerobic digester which is fuelled with their own homegrown rye and maize crops
The digester breaks down the rye and maize to produce methane, which then runs their generator, transforming the methane into green electricity and renewable heat. About 10% of this homemade energy is used on the farm, with the rest going to the grid to provide enough electricity to power 340 local homes.
Their hens are given natural additives such as vitamins, probiotics and enriched natural yeasts to keep them in the peak of health. This has resulted in zero use of antibiotics.
The environmentally friendly couple also strive to provide the highest standards of welfare for their hens, with natural cover provided on the ranges well in excess of the RSPCA welfare standards requirements.
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