Fakenham pig farmer is crowned McDonald’s Outstanding Farmer of the Year 2017
PUBLISHED: 10:20 21 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:20 25 July 2017
A commitment to animal welfare and a dramatic reduction in the use of antibiotics have made a Norfolk pig farmer the best in the business, according to the fast-food chain he supplies.
Robert Battersby, who farms near Fakenham, said he was “very proud” to be crowned McDonald’s Outstanding Farmer of the Year 2017.
On 100 acres of rented land, Mr Battersby has 1,000 sows producing just over 26 pigs per sow, per year, which are reared for four weeks before being sent to straw-based RSPCA-assured finishing units across East Anglia.
Mr Battersby, who has supplied McDonald’s for four years, was praised for his focus on pig health and welfare through the development of insulated farrowing huts, containerised clean water systems and environmental initiatives.
These measures have helped reduce the mortality rates of his piglets by 20pc and lowered antibiotic usage by 85% – a huge individual contribution to industry efforts to reduce the amount of drugs given to livestock, in a bid to halt the rise of drug-resistant infections in human medicine.
“It is all about animal welfare,” said Mr Battersby. “Outdoor pig farming is sometimes perceived as being cheap and cheerful with the equipment that we use. But with the amount of piglets that the sows are now producing we need to be looking at it in a different way.
“We need to be spending more money on better quality equipment. It is all about the sow – their health and welfare is key. The happier they are, the better they do in terms of the piglets they produce.
“We’ve reduced our antibiotic use by 85pc over the last couple of years. It is a massive issue, and not just in the pig industry. Every industry needs to look at what they are doing and how they can reduce their use of antibiotics. There are no preventative antibiotics used here. They are only used to treat specific ailments like mastitis, lameness or cuts.”
Measures to improve animal health – and therefore reduce the need for medicine – include investing in a system of more than 200 sealed plastic tanks which supply the whole farm with clean drinking water.
“The water is 100pc containerised so there is no contamination from birds or rats, or from the sows themselves,” said Mr Battersby. “There is silver mixed into the tank which stops bacteria re-growing, so as long as there is clean water going in, it will stay clean.
“We are also providing a lot more green cover for the sows. It is very stony ground here so we used to get a lot of leg problems, which required a lot of antibiotics. Now we hardly get any leg problems because we cultivate the soil more and put more grass in.”
Among the new innovations at Mr Battersby’s farm are the twin-skinned plastic farrowing huts, which keep the pigs cool in the hot summer weather.
“The old huts are metal so the temperature goes sky-high in summer,” he said. “That is why we have been developing these plastic huts with an engineering company called Techneat in Littleport (near Ely).
“Now we have these twin-skin Armadillo huts, which are filled with foam for insulation. In the summer, when the temperature is 30 degrees outside, you can get temperatures of up to 45 degrees in a metal hut, but with a plastic hut we can easily get 10 degrees lower, and that makes all the difference between the piglets being fed or not being fed at certain times of day. In a metal hut they would be out looking for some way to keep cool.
“We have spent a lot of money – one plastic hut is £500 and we have 264 of the twin-skin models. But I always liked the point of view that I would not want to sit in a metal hut on a sunny day, so why would I make my pigs do it?”
Mr Battersby said he aims to expand the farm by renting an additional 50 acres for another 500 sows.
“We start building it in September,” he said. “That unit will use everything we have learned here.
“It will be 100pc plastic huts and water containers. And we will look at ways of keeping more grass in the fields, so that unit will be under-sown with clovers and different grasses so the whole site will be greener and better for the pigs.”
The award was presented by McDonald’s UK supply chain director Connor McVeigh, who said: “Robert really impressed with his commitment to finding new solutions to long standing issues in pig production, and his innovative ideas are an example to farmers across the UK.”