Congratulations to Charlie Thompson of Bridge House Farm for being nominated as Britain’s Pig Farmer of the year. Below are the details of that recognition. Bridge House is a Genesus Nucleus in Great Britain.
Data is fundamental on this high-health 650- sow breeding nucleus unit with every piglet individually monitored on its growing performance from the minute it is born using EID and ultra-high frequency tags (UHF tags)- one of the first farms in the world to do this.
Charlie has worked hard to adapt the electronic identification (EID) technology to suit his system, with everything from individual birthweights, litter performance, weaning weights, intramuscular fat as well as conformation traits measured and recorded on touchscreen tablets.
Running a purebred herd supplying breeding stock for Genesus Genetics, Charlie is breeding Yorkshire pigs for the damline and Duroc’s for the sireline. This makes accurate data vital, with all the information shared with Genesus Genetics so that continual genetic improvements can be made.
The introduction of EID has made life so much easier. Before EID, it used to take three hours to record weaning weights of 300 piglets with four members of staff. Now two members of staff can take the weights in less than two hours. Furthermore, it has improved accuracy to 100%.
Using UHF tags means they can be read in batches and from a distance. Charlie has installed fixed EID readers in the corridors, which means individual pig and group movements can be tracked between each stage of production.
Bulk reading of pigs has proved useful recently when Charlie exported his first batch of 700 pigs to Genesus Farms in China.
But the technology does not stop there. Charlie also invested in a phase-feeding system, which allows a tailored diet for each pen of pigs with pigs fed on a curve depending on their sex and breed.
Charlie estimates this is saving him about 5p a gilt a day, which over a year equates to £35,000 across 2,000 gilt places.
Because diets are gradually changed, there is never a growth check or stomach upsets. It is also thought a combination of consistent feeding and genetics – with Durocs renowned for being extremely placid – is contributing to massively reducing tail biting. This means tails are not docked on this unit.
Much of the system is fully slatted, but Charlie is doing all he can to enhance the environment. He has established a relationship with a bowling ball company and uses bowling balls as enrichment. He is also trialling lots of other enrichment toys.
Bridge House Farm has been a nucleus breeding unit since 1987 but, in 2017, following a depopulation of the PIC herd, it decided to restock with Genesus genetics due to the performance of the pigs and the simplicity of the breeding.
Charlie says: “We liked the simplicity, with them only having two breeds: the Yorkshire and the Duroc. We were also blown away by the growth rates and productivity.”
Exporting to China is something Charlie hopes to continue doing. He has built two 650-place quarantine units on the farm by converting two poultry sheds. He would also like to set up a secondary nucleus unit on a separate farm so he can divest some of the risk should the unit get a disease breakdown.
The plan is to increase sow numbers to 950 quite quickly to keep up with the demand. He also plans to continue developing the team of staff by putting them through training and making life easier by using technology.
What the judges say
“Charlie is young and enthusiastic, with a passion for technology. The amount of data he collects and uses means he can fine-tune his system to ensure pig welfare and performance can be optimised.”