Precision feeding for pig success

28 Aug 2018

Husband and wife team, Stephen and Karen Thompson run Povey Farm in Norton, Derbyshire, on the outskirts of Sheffield. They run a 190 sow breeding herd and are fourth generation farmers on the site which has been in the family since the close of the nineteenth century. They run a split operation at Povey, with Stephen in charge of the arable operation and on-farm butchery and Karen managing the commercial pig unit which farrows every three weeks.

The farm comprises 240 acres and is situated in the Moss Valley, close to the Yorkshire/ Derbyshire county border. A rotation of oilseed rape, wheat and barley is grown on the farm, with the wheat and barley used to form the basis of the pigs’ ration. The cereals grown on farm provide almost half of that required to feed the herd with the remaining balance bought in from local farms.

The Thompsons use a Harbro Tropper to mill and mix their cereals to create a bespoke ration, a process which Karen describes as ‘precision feeding.’ The Tropper visits the farm every Monday to make up the ration for that week with just over 100 tonnes of feed produced every month. The regularity of this process, combined with the performance data collected on a continual basis enables the diet to be constantly tweaked to respond to changes to a number of variables monitored, including seasonality, cereal quality, or current animal performance,

Harbro pig specialist, Harvey May first introduced the Thompsons to mill and mixing back in 2012 when the wet summer had meant their wheat and barley were out of spec. A finishing diet was created to use the cereals and the Thompsons were impressed with the difference it made to performance compared to the compound they were on previously.

Following these positive early results, in 2013 Harbro expanded the service to introduce bespoke link, weaner and grower rations also using the Tropper and the family have never looked back.

Karen works closely with the technical team at Harbro to assess performance on an ongoing basis, tweaking the diets to meet the changing objectives on farm. Assisted by one of the largest PhD qualified livestock teams in the country, Harbro are able to quickly switch the spec of the ration, making the smallest changes to the diet as required. For example, more oil can be added if the pigs are required to gain more fat, and the ration fed in warmer weather will differ due to the pigs’ dip in appetite.

As well as increasing performance, the Thompsons have also seen a big improvement in the health of their herd, and subsequently they have been able to cut antibiotic usage down to under 1mg/kg.  Improved health, and in particular improved gut health means that the pigs are more calm and content along with them growing quicker and to a heavier weight.

The Harbro team now work with the Thompsons to create rations for each stage of the production cycle. The farm moved on to lactating sow diets 18 months ago with the ration designed to increase feed intake leading to improved sow condition leaving lactation, larger litter weights and improved conception.

Their current results show:

Pigs weaned per sow


Weaning weight


Weaning age

25 days

Tonnes fed sow/year


FCR wean – finish


The butchery, under the name of Moss Valley Fine Meats supplies top quality cuts to local restaurants, cafes and delis as well as to individual customers from the on-farm butchery door. Full time butcher Mick prepares standard cuts as well as creating special orders to meet specific customer requirements. Having won numerous local awards for the quality of the meat, all products hold the “Made In Sheffield” mark of origin which is a symbol of the quality of products manufactured in the city. The butchery provides a real farm to fork experience meeting the consumer’s growing desire to understand where their food comes from and the traceability of its production.

The pigs reared on the farm are a specialised cross–breed, which has been selected for the quality of its meat which is succulent and tender. The farm process 15 pigs a week through the butchery with the aim to increase this to 25 within the next two years. Their success at both local and national levels is starting to put the Thompsons in the agricultural spotlight, in 2017 they were shortlisted for Farmers Weekly’s Pig Farmer of the Year award and as we went to print, they have just been shortlisted for the NPA producer / retailer of the year, 2018.

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