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Farm Buildings

Inside information is key for production efficiency

A recently completed survey into how pigs are housed in England, will offer a valuable insight into the systems used to rear and finish slaughter progeny. Devised by AHDB Pork, it is the pig industry’s largest ever study on accommodation and should provide clues on what’s influencing production efficiency and environmental impacts. Jane Jordan writes.

An uninsulated shell. The thermal qualities of most straw-based, naturally-ventilated accommodation are generally not considered.

The survey, conducted by BMG Research during autumn 2018 until the end of January 2019, has analysed responses from 248 pig production businesses. The data collected will provide quantitative and qualitative information on the housing facilities currently being used on pig production sites nationwide.

It’s too early to draw conclusions at this stage, but the data collected is a good representation of what’s happening on English pig farms, says independent environment and buildings specialist, Nigel Penlington, formerly with AHDB. “A number of key themes are emerging, nationally and regionally, and once analysed the findings will provide good intelligence for AHDB and others to develop, going forward.”

A variety of accommodation and production systems are used to rear pigs in the UK, with a significant proportion aimed at satisfying retail/consumer ideals, not necessarily pigs’ needs. Straw-based, naturally-ventilated buildings/yards are popular and perceived to offer welfare benefits. However, some on-farm studies, carried out on a selection of RSPCA Freedom Food approved finishing houses during Summer 2018, have raised questions about these systems.

The investigations, using thermal imagery, showed how most semi-intensive systems are less than adequate at maintaining a favourable, stable environment during very hot or very cold conditions. The footage, taken when temperatures ranged from 26–30ºC, also revealed how certain design specifications do affect the thermo-dynamics of a building, often compromising the pigs’ immediate living space.


Suffolk-based Rattlerow Farms’ joint MD, Adrian Lawson, set up the investigations to find out what was happening inside the straw-based accommodation used on the company’s commercial production sites. The images recorded show some marked differences between well insulated and poorly insulated buildings during very hot conditions.

Thermal images pick up the hot spots inside a typical straw-based finishing house. The ambient internal temperature is 24ºC, but note the warmer roofline and hot zones at pig level. Insulation would improve this environment.

“The value of insulation in pig accommodation is so underrated in the UK and that needs to change. Insulation’s not about heat retention, the focus needs to be on temperature management. I’m confident any investment made to improve the insulating capabilities of any building, whether it’s slatted, straw-based or an outdoor hut, will pay off because it will benefit production efficiency,” he says.

Adrian’s thermal imagery demonstrated how the level of insulation provided in walls, ceiling and floors influenced temperature in certain zones and how the materials used to fabricate pen divisions and gates affected air movement within a building. It showed how roof insulation – if there was any – was generally inadequate and offered little protection from the sun’s intense, relentless heat. In most cases the roof behaved like a radiator, while the smooth, light-reflecting, easy-clean surfaces often used to finish walls and partitions, exacerbated the problem by reflecting heat back into the building – an advantage when it’s cold, but not ideal at 26ºC +.

The footage also picked up considerable temperature variances inside wide-span, curtain-sided accommodation. On warm days, when all windows/curtain sides were fully opened and ventilation was at maximum, hot spots were clearly evident at pig level, along pen walls and divisions – zones that heat temperature probes can’t reach. Observations also noted how pigs housed in pens with barred gates/divisions seemed more comfortable than those in buildings where pen divides were solid boards/wall and that these pigs were also more inclined to ‘wallow’ in the dung passage.

Good insulation

Staffordshire-based ARM Buildings’ environmental specialist, Tim Miller, says a good level of insulation provides an effective barrier against solar generated heat and although it won’t prevent buildings getting hot, in extreme temperatures it will slow down the rate at which internal temperatures rise or fall.

“Having good insulation’s so important for all pig accommodation. It buffers temperature changes and will help maintain a more stabilised environment, which is what pigs tend to prefer. Unfortunately, the thermal qualities of most straw-based, naturally-ventilated accommodation is generally not considered in the same way as environmentally controlled systems, so most buildings are uninsulated shells, offering very little control,” he explains.

Even modern, ‘freedom food’ type systems, with automatically controlled curtain-sides have limited environmental control, and Mr Miller says any change in ambient temperature outside, is usually mirrored inside the building. To improve environmental management in hot conditions, ARM has installed positive pressure ducts and extractor fans in the roof space of a number of straw-based systems. This pushes air into buildings and speeds up airflow and outcomes have proved reasonably successful. Further investment in an insulated roof might reduce the ‘solar heating effect’ and offer additional improvements, so it’s worth thinking about, suggests Mr Miller.

“When the heat’s unbearable, like it was in Summer 2018, it’s always going to be difficult to stop pigs lying in the muck passage. We can increase ventilation and blow cooler air into a building, but, ultimately, the pigs will go where they feel most comfortable. Outdoors that’s a wallow and indoors they head for the next best thing; the cool, wet dunging area,” he adds.

Installing positive pressure ducts and fans can improve airflow and help reduce over heating in straw-based sheds.

Temperature control in prolonged cold conditions is also difficult to manage. A trial, carried out by ARM on a finishing site in Yorkshire during winter 2017/18, showed how internal temperatures of the straw yards tracked outside levels. The investigation, in conjunction with the farm’s veterinary practice, monitored average daily temperatures and found that during one very cold week the indoor highs never reached more than 10ºC during daylight hours.

“Although the pigs had bedding and appeared comfortable, you have to consider how this prolonged cold environment affected their behaviour, performance and feed costs. Adding more bedding does help to keep pigs warm, but straw’s becoming more expensive, too, so you have to question if this is cost effective or sustainable, long term,” he says.

These observations suggest that most naturally ventilated/straw based rearing systems would benefit from better insulation, even at basic levels. It would improve the thermal dynamics of these buildings and has potential to raise pig performance and efficiency.

Reduce inefficiencies

Accommodation attitudes are changing in the pig sector. The industry’s commitment to further reduce antibiotic use is encouraging farmers to revaluate their production systems and engineer health control strategies founded on tough hygiene protocols and smarter environmental management.

In 2014 the PIVIT project – Pig Improvement Via Information Technology – demonstrated how remote, continuous, real-time monitoring and analysis of a production system could help pig businesses identify anomalies and reduce inefficiency. Statistics were collected on temperature, ventilation rates, feed intake and water consumption and cross-referenced against pig performance. The farms involved gained considerable insight into how their production systems were working and the information gathered soon indicated how most of the buildings used to rear slaughter pigs were not providing what the animals needed for the entire production process. The perceived production environment was not necessarily the reality, and most set-ups were not being managed correctly all of the time, so inefficiencies existed.

Some farms also discovered how episodes of poor health could be matched to these periods of ‘environmental inadequacy’. By tracking real-time records, each premises learned to note particular trends and identify signals that were likely to pre-empt a potential disease outbreak – it proved a very useful tool.

Observing pig behaviour might indicate that pigs are comfortable (or not), but does it actually show if they are performing as well as they could be, or if growth and FCR (feed conversion ratio) are being compromised by more subtle environmental factors?

Buildings and how they are managed have a considerable impact on herd health, welfare and productivity. The UK pig sector must evaluate the systems it uses and determine which ones are functional, efficient and cost effective. It must reconsider PIVIT’s concept and conclusions as this project demonstrated how simple environmental intelligence can isolate inefficiency, improve production management and help pig businesses harness more of the performance potential available in their slaughter pigs. The findings are relevant today, and perhaps more so given today’s increasingly competitive market.

Bespoke DIY modular buildings created


Create A Cabin says that it can help simplify agricultural diversification by placing them inside an existing farm building without the need for planning permission (only ‘change of use’ is required). The buildings can also be placed outside, adds the Kent based company.

Ranging in size from 20–150m², the self-supported buildings are technically sophisticated and flexible.

Working to specific requirements, the insulated buildings arrive flat-packed in kit form for self-assembly, or with optional construction assistance.

Made from polyurethane and galvanised steel, the horizontal panels are stacked on top of each other with an overhang to ensure they are washable and food grade compliant. A PVC corner piece helps ensure clean, vermin free buildings, making them ideal for artisan food preparation. Power, plumbing and flooring are connected after the build with local contractors.

Experience shows that no two projects are the same due to size, budget or location, continues Create A Cabin. The buildings are made to measure and fit any space.  Internal partitions can be provided to create offices, cold rooms, storage, showers, WCs, temporary accommodation and training rooms. Delivered within four weeks of order, the buildings are priced favourably compared with other ready-made structures at £250–£400m2. They are a fast, economical way for forward thinking farmers to change direction and grow profit, adds the firm, which can be contacted on 01227 389 895.

Successful apprentice shortlisted for award


An apprentice draughtsman for an agricultural business has been shortlisted for Apprentice of the Year in The Sentiinels Business Awards this month.

Alex Critchley secured his apprenticeship with Graham Heath Construction in 2017. He was the company’s first apprentice and was based at its Cheshire office. During his apprenticeship he has brought in more than £600,000 to the company it says. “In 2018 alone, we manufactured and supplied 432 buildings which is a fantastic increase from 2017’s number of 377. The year of 2018 was undoubtedly our most successful and busiest year since opening our doors, which is why the news of this shortlist has got our team off to a strong start for 2019.”

The company nominated Alex for the award in November 2018, putting him forward as Apprentice of the Year 2019 to show their appreciation of his hard work. “As Alex reaches the end of his Apprenticeship, we hope the news of being shortlisted will prove to Alex his talent and ability to make a difference to our continuous growth,” says the firm.

Graham Heath construction manufactures steel-framed buildings for the agricultural, industrial and equestrian industries.

Your farm should be your fortress


Across the UK, farmers are turning their homes and business into fortresses in order to try and protect themselves against thieves, according to livestock marketing co-operative Anglia Quality Meat (AQM).

Rural crime has historically been a hot topic, it says. Farms are often seen as soft targets with low levels of security, and items such as expensive vehicles, machinery, scrap metal and high quality tools vulnerable to theft from both criminal gangs and opportunists. Combine that with a rural police force rarely able to provide a rapid response due to many factors such as geography, and it is no wonder that many farming and rural communities feel isolated.

Farms are often seen as soft targets with low levels of security.

The overall cost of UK rural crime according to recent statistics is around £40 million per year. Within these statistics, the items that are stolen follow trends with quad bikes, power tools and tractors remaining firm favourites. This year, Land Rover Defenders have been added to thieves’ shopping lists following their production being terminated in 2016.

Livestock theft

Most weeks there are press reports of large numbers of lambs and sheep being stolen for illegal slaughter. Besides theft, there are also concerns from livestock farmers for their own safety and that of their staff from ‘animal activists’ and campaigners. It can be very intimidating when groups of people trespass on to a farmer’s property with their faces covered, intent on creating a disturbance so as to spread their own views, explains AQM livestock communication and development manager, James Doel (left).

All of these criminal acts have to be paid for, and it usually results in farmers having to make claims on their insurance policies to cover their losses. This in turn can lead to higher premiums, increased excesses or refusal to provide cover for re-occurring losses, he adds.

Farmers can take precautions to protect assets which can also lead to reductions in insurance premiums. Each farming business is unique and by working with an agricultural security specialist, it is possible to put measures in place which will deter the thieves and intruders.

AQM’s ActiveWatch can help protect all aspects of a farm, including:

  • GPS Tracking devices for machinery & equipment
  • Gate/door sensors
  • PIR sensors
  • Laser beam sensors (laser gates) with 100m range
  • Fuel tanks
  • Pressure pads (under vehicles, feed bags etc)
  • Temperature/humidity sensors
  • Flame/smoke detection
  • CCTV cameras

All of AQM’s products are designed to be simple to install and are very cost effective.

The importance of air extraction in grain stores


Without external ventilation crop cooling systems are inefficient because warm air extracted from grain is circulated within the building rather than being expelled.

The result is slower crop cooling that can lead to insect infestation and poor quality grain, says grain store specialist Martin Lishman. One solution is to leave the building doors open but this has disadvantages including reduced security, non-compliance with quality assurance procedures, loss of protection from the elements and a still inadequate airflow into and out of the building.

The StoreVent building ventilation system from Martin Lishman improves crop store ventilation by extracting the warm, moist air removed from grain by Pile-Dry Pedestals, FloorVent systems, Trouble-Dry spears and other drying and cooling devices. It also replenishes the building with fresh, cool air from outside. Ultimately, StoreVent will maximise the efficiency of crop cooling and drying systems it says.

Due to the range of extraction fans available, the system can be matched to the various quantities and sizes of crop ventilation fans used in the store. This ensures sufficient air exchange to maximise the cooling and drying effect of the ambient air.

The StoreVent extraction fan and louvre.

Available in a range of packages, the StoreVent options include wall mounted extraction fans, back-draught shutters, fixed or motorised louvres and automatic controls that can be linked to crop ventilation fans. StoreVent is a comprehensive and cost-effective system that will save energy and help to produce dry, cool and high quality grain.

Martin Lishman can also offer complete crop storage systems and grain quality and crop storage advice based on practical experience in thousands of stores throughout the UK and worldwide. The company’s storage specialists can assist farmers and store managers with the design of a storage system to suit their budgets.

A feel for Steel


AJN Steelstock has developed and maintained a large presence in supplying the farm buildings market over many years, says the company.

It has worked hand-in-hand with large and small companies that manufacture and supply products for all aspects of agricultural buildings.

The business has two well-equipped processing sites in Suffolk and Somerset. These cover 11ha, holding over 30,000t of steel in a wide range of sizes and lengths.

Considerable investment has been made in plant and machinery to meet the demands of picking and processing over 15,000t every month. This year sees the further addition of laser-cutting facilities and drilling lines to increase plate capacity at both sites.

From in-house sawing to shot blasting and painting, from state-of-the-art CNC drilling to plasma cutting, AJN Steelstock offers a comprehensive range of processing and finishing services. Furthermore, the company’s fleet of over 60 vehicles and 24-hour working patterns, means it is able to meet the most demanding of schedules.

The company is an active member of the Rural & Industrial Design & Building Association (RIDBA) and can be contacted for any steel requirements.

Farmers seeking diversification advice


A large number of farmers attended the Energy and Rural Business Show, Telford, Shropshire in early February to explore diversification options to keep their businesses viable, and ‘future-proof’ against rising uncertainty.

The new event comes from the creators of ‘Energy Now Expo’ and for the first time showcased the latest renewable energy, farm diversification and low emission vehicle opportunities under one roof.

Diversification options, including alternative use for farm buildings, was a focus for visitors to the Energy and Rural Business Show.

“We’re responding to a time of great ambiguity and transition in agriculture and have introduced three elements of the show which are defining farms of the future. The Energy Now Expo, celebrating 10 years of success this year, was joined by Rural Business Expo and Low Emission Vehicles Expo,” says event director, David Jacobmeyer.

According to the NFU Mutual ‘Diversification report’ issued in November 2018, the most popular diversification opportunities are renewable energy, which makes up 29 per cent of activity, property letting at 15 per cent, closely followed by holiday lets and glamping-type activity, which makes up 12 per cent.

Other types of popular enterprises include livery stables, outdoor leisure activities and farm shops, all of which were heavily featured at the show, with expert speakers informing in ‘How-to’ diversification workshops, presenting in the multi-streamed conference and exhibiting.

Testament to the success of the event and taking centre stage at the show were the new BBC Top Gear team, Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris, who stopped off at the Telford show to film part of their next series.

The next Energy and Rural Business Show is scheduled for February 2020.

The ‘How-to’ diversification workshops were popular.

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