Donside farm in pig monitor scheme

Pic Alan Richardson Dundee, Pix-AR.co.uk'Danny Skinner, Lazyfold Farm, Insch AB52 6YX
Pic Alan Richardson Dundee, Pix-AR.co.uk'Danny Skinner, Lazyfold Farm, Insch AB52 6YX

An Aberdeenshire farming family have been appointed as Quality Meat Scotland’s new pig monitor farmers.

Danny and Alison Skinner farm around 400 sows at Lazyfold near Insch, along with Danny’s father and mother, Dan and May, and their children Daniel and Kerry.

The Skinners farm approximately 420 acres, 300 acres of which is owned with a further 120 rented on a seasonal let basis locally.

The soils are light and free-draining and the land is cropped with cereals, mostly spring barley and winter wheat, for pig feed. Sixty acres of oats have also been grown on 120 acres of land purchased this spring, due to its low pH. All the cereal work is undertaken by the Skinners, other than combining when a contractor is used.

During the past 18 months the family has invested strongly in their pig enterprise. The £300,000 spend, supported by a Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) grant, included new slurry handling facilities and a new weaner shed where different feed and watering systems are also being trialed.

Initially the farm was a Pig Improvement Company (PIC) multiplier unit which sold breeding gilts (young female pigs). In 1984, however, a viral pneumonia outbreak resulted in the farm being de-stocked and shortly after a decision was taken to move into commercial pig production.

Given the farm’s historic focus on breeding gilts, pig health and breeding are areas where the Skinners feel they perform pretty well. Sow litter size averages 11.6 piglets, with an average of 27.8pigs reared per sow per year. However, areas they’d like to focus on during the three year term of the monitor farm programme are pig growth and weight gain.

“I’m a great believer in the value of bench-marking. It is a real eye-opener to see how your farm performs compared with others. I hope being a monitor farm will take this to a new level,” said Danny.

“We see it as a great opportunity to share information openly and I hope other farmers will get something out of it too. I’m definitely a practical farmer first and a businessman second so I’m looking forward to getting advice on the business side of what we do,” he added.

According to Danny, good staff play a big part in the success of a pig business. The farm employs three full-time stockmen – Brian Maitland, David Alexander and Ryan Daly.

Dan Skinner bought the farm in 1962 after training and working as an engineer. Fifty years on he is looking forward to the monitor farm experience and has no regrets about his decision to dedicate his career to pig farming.

“This is not an easy job but even when margins are dismal and we are scrimping a living there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. Working outside and seeing the pigs thriving is something I’ve always taken great satisfaction in,” said Dan.

Allan Ward, Pig Development Manager with Quality Meat Scotland, said: “We are delighted to have the Skinner family on board as our new pig monitor farmers. “Their enthusiasm for the opportunities offered by being part of the monitor farm programme and their willingness to embrace new ideas to improve their business is greatly appreciated.

“We look forward to working with the Skinner family over the three year term of the programme and to welcoming farmers to the first meeting.”

The first meeting of the new monitor farm will take place later this month and is open to pig farmers and their employees. Further information is available by emailing either of the two pig monitor farm facilitators, Jamie Robertson of Aberdeen University j.robertson@abdn.ac.uk or Jim Booth of SAOS jim.booth@saos.co.uk.