Innovation of the Year

White Syke Farm, labour saving devices

White Syke Farm 

Matt Wilkin and the team at his York-based White Syke Farm were not happy with the moveable farrowing systems they were using. The alternative system they came up with has now earned the business the title of Innovation of the Year. 

The unit has a breeding herd of around 2,100 sows, producing piglets on a weekly system to be weaned off site at dedicated nursery yards.

The buildings have evolved over time as the herd has increased a few hundred sows, with the vast majority of the work designed and carried out by the family and team on site.

“The farm has undergone several revisions of the farrowing accommodation, with a slow changeover to a home-designed set of farrowing pens with crates over the last 10 years, including a couple of Portapig cabins to assist with the herd expansion,” he said.

A few years ago the farm trialled some adaptive farrowing systems that allowed increased movement of the sow. The family decided that, although the design of the moveable farrowing systems did reduce restrictions on the sows, there were elements that did not work well for stock and stockman alike.

With the aim of keeping things simple, they started designing their own moveable crate and farrowing pen. The design allows for the gilt/ sow to be restricted when required, for vaccinations, for example, but it can then be opened up to any variety of sizes as a result of the sliding bar at the back, making it very flexible for any size of adult animal.

Having trialled a couple of variations in one farrowing room, they took the plunge and ordered a larger quantity to be manufactured and delivered, to kit out three newly renovated farrowing rooms.

“We have thought long and hard about how the pigs need to be accommodated within the pen, and also how the stockmen should be kept safe as well, while making it easy to use,” Matt said. 

The farm now features more than 60% moveable farrowing and over the next six months, the rest of the conventional farrowing places will be converted to the new system.

Matt said winning the award was a ‘very important achievement for us’. “It is very pleasing and satisfying to be recognised for something we have put so much work into over the past few years,” he said.

“Designing a new free-farrowing system was not easy and we looked at aspects we felt would work well for pig and staff welfare alike, while also achieving a mortality rate in line with conventional farrowing.

“We hope to fully convert to free farrowing in the near future. We believe within the next few years, free farrowing will be mandatory for all new builds and will be phased in gradually over time, so this approach will hopefully help future-proof the industry.”

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