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Development of the Outdoor Pig Industry

10. Large scale outdoor pig production was started in this country in the 1950s by Richard Roadnight in Oxfordshire. The Roadnight System developed as a break crop to fit into the arable rotation on the farm. Sows were simply run in large groups in fenced paddocks, farrowing twice per year. Weaned piglets were removed from the fields at about eight weeks and the sows put back into pig. Although the details of production methods have changed, this basic principle is still largely used today.

11. The Roadnight System increased in popularity in the 1960s and during this period about 5% of the UK breeding herd were in outdoor systems. Although there were not many herds, the average herd size was high, often up to 400 sows. As the basic requirement for outdoor production is a light, free-draining soil in a low rainfall area, most of the production then, as now, was located in the south of England, East Anglia and along the east side of Britain as far north as Aberdeen.

12. This situation remained static until the 1980s, after which there was a rapid increase in the proportion of the national herd kept outside. At the present time it is estimated that between 18 and 20% of the UK breeding herd is kept outdoors and in some areas of the country this is increasing.

13. The major reasons for the recent increase in outdoor production have been commercial. Indoor production has been under severe pressure. Continual low margins have resulted in a lack of re-investment, which has made many units uncompetitive. The capital that has been invested has often been directed at the need to comply with legislation. This includes welfare legislation, such as the impending ban on stalls and tethers, and also pollution control. These factors have combined to provide circumstances in which many farmers have opted to cease pig production.

14. Businesses wishing to expand and fill the gap left by those indoor producers who have left the industry, have found outdoor systems offer many opportunities.

a) Capital cost is significantly lower. For example, equipment costs for outdoor production are in the order of 250 to 350 per sow. In comparison, an equivalent indoor unit could cost up to 1,500 per sow, taking into account the necessary services and manure storage facilities. Although these figures exclude the capital value of the land, many farmers have found that renting land on short-term agreements is better suited to the mobile nature of outdoor production.

b) Using improved breeds and management techniques, performance and production can be comparable with indoor systems. The results of national recording systems show that indoor herds only average about 1 pig reared per sow per year more than outdoor herds.

c) During the late 1980s the threat of falling arable margins, particularly on the light lands traditionally less suitable for cereals, made arable farmers look for alternative forms of income.

d) Many companies, such as feed suppliers and abattoirs, have encouraged outdoor production by offering contract schemes to producers. Under these schemes, the company supplies the stock, the feed, the marketing and the technical support. The farmer provides the site, labour, equipment, straw and water in return for a management fee based on the number of pigs in his or her care and their performance. These schemes are particularly attractive to new entrants to the industry because of the significantly reduced working capital requirements.

e) There are currently no planning restrictions for outdoor units. This has been a major advantage over new indoor units as objections to the possible production of odours from the latter mean that applications tend to take a long time and be expensive.

f) There are fewer pollution restrictions for outdoor units. In contrast, many indoor units have been faced with capital expenditure for improving collection and storage of slurry, dirty water and solid manure to meet the required standards. However, we understand that there may be restrictions in the future on stocking rates for outdoor units, especially in areas such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

g) There are perceived welfare advantages for outdoor pig production compared with indoor systems. In some cases, but not all, these advantages have been realised in terms of premiums for niche market products. Most of the major retailers offer pig meat products produced in "traditional" or "high welfare" systems. These are largely, but not exclusively, based on outdoor production systems.

15. The UK is almost unique in having a suitable balance of relatively low rainfall and temperate climate suitable for outdoor production. It therefore has the largest outdoor pig herd in Europe. Other countries where there is some outdoor production include France and Denmark. There is also a growing outdoor pig industry in the United States of America.

16. The low pig prices in 1993 and 1994, together with two wet winters, have forced many producers out of production especially in the higher rainfall areas. However, it is anticipated that the proportion of pigs kept in outdoor systems will continue to rise. Currently expansion may be held back by the lack of availability of suitable sites. This is affected by the maintenance of high arable margins, area payments and set aside.