Stradbroke pig farmer’s Aardvark farrowing hut invention goes global
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk pig genetics firm Rattlerow Farms has picked up awards for joint managing director Adrian Lawson’s eye-catching Aardvark Farrowing Hut. Sarah Chambers went to one of the firm’s farms to see the huts in action.
Ensuring his pigs are comfortable is something that has occupied Adrian Lawson’s thoughts for a number of years.
With a total of around 10,000 sows to take care of across eight Rattlerow Farms sites, including one in Elgin in the north of Scotland, he was keen to develop a new approach to pig housing in order to improve his litter mortality.
He felt there were two big problems with the traditional metal housing being used on the farms.
One was that the design and construction materials meant more temperature extremes and the other that the square shape took no account of the natural curve of a sow.
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The company’s farms are located mainly around Suffolk and Norfolk, plus other sites in the eastern counties – in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire – as well as the one in Scotland.
The pigs genetics business, based at Stradbroke, employs about 130 people in total and is run jointly be Adrian and his brother, Robert.
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Two or three years ago, Adrian decided to put all his industry knowledge and know-how into creating a home for his pigs – and those of other breeders – which could help to make the outdoor pig industry more sustainable in the future.
He designed his Aardvark Farrowing Hut himself and then developed it with the help of Techneat Engineering/Con-Tented Products, based at Littleport in Cambridgeshire, with the first prototype produced in June 2015.
It was a ground-breaking concept. Last year, it was named the winner of the Pig World New Product Award at the 2016 Pig & Poultry Fair and then also scooped the Technical Innovation of the Year award at the National Pig Awards.
The Aardvark, made from recycled polyethylene, is twin-skinned, fully insulated and designed for outdoor pig farms.
It has a larger floor area than the conventional steel huts and a 360-degree piglet safety zone thanks to its circular design
Temperature control and an integral water tank and creep trough have also been designed in, which means that sows and their piglets do not get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, and that they always have a ready supply of water available, to ensure they do not become dehydrated.
A hatch allows access to the farmer and means they can see the whole litter. Wax points under the hatch mean that at about 16C is starts to open, fully opening at around 22C.
“It did take a little bit of thinking,” explained Adrian. “The genetics is changing so that we are having to produce more and more piglets each year and the potential of the sow is improving but what that means is the piglets being born are slightly lighter.”
The patented design, made from recyclable plastic, means that the sow stays in the middle of the hut, allowing the piglets to stay out of harm’s way as crushing can be a problem.
The aim is to reduce piglet mortality rates and increase litter weights, despite the trend towards bigger litters meaning that birth weights tend to be lower.
The huts were only launched on to the market in August of last year but they have already attracted worldwide interest, with orders from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.
The stackable design makes for easier transportation, with 55 fitting into a standard shipping container.
With the UK leading the world in outdoor pig production – most other countries rear pigs indoors – innovation is key, Adrian believes.
Litter mortality results for the huts have been promising so far, and figures Adrian has been gathering indicate that the Aardvark units have lower mortality and higher weaning weights compared with insulated roof corrugated metal arcs, meaning that outdoor pig production can compete with indoor, where results tend to be better.
The first results coming out of Australia and New Zealand are impressive, he said.
“It’s really hot out there, so it’s more important that it’s cool in the summer than that they are warm in the winter,” he said.
“It’s a significant difference. Say in the springtime if it starts to get warm, it doesn’t get as hot – it’s more comfortable space for the mother, and her piglets,” said production manager John Theobald.
“I think the main thing is sow comfort. The atmosphere in there is very comfortable for the sow and litter because you get a very consistent heat.”