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Aberdeenshire Pig Business Focuses on Technology and Efficiency
A commitment to making use of new technology and improving efficiency is a key part of the business philosophy of twenty-five-year-old Lynn Argo, who is making her mark on the pig industry.
Miss Argo, who is based at Harvieston Farm, Catterline, Stonehaven, has a BSc Honours in Agriculture from SRUC Craibstone. She has been working full time in the family business since she graduated in 2014 and, along with her father, David, is determined to drive the business forward.
The firm of DW Argo has two main pig units: Brigstanes, just a mile away from the home farm, and Ellismoss, about 45 minutes’ drive away at Kinnellar. Between them, there are 1,800 sows and 16 staff.
Miss Argo explained: “The nucleus herd is at Ellismoss. Each week, 90 to 100 gilts are either sold for breeding or retained from that unit, while the rest of the weaned pigs come to Brigstanes to be finished.”
The family have 400 hectares at their own farms and contract farm a further 150 hectares. Most of the land is down to cereals, which are all used for pig feed. They also grow potatoes – and daffodils for both flowers and bulbs.
Since finishing her degree and joining the family business, Miss Argo has done a bit of everything, but her key responsibility is to look after the approximately 5,000 fattening pigs out at “bed and breakfast” all over Scotland. She said: “I spend quite a lot of time on the road, checking the health of these pigs, selecting pigs for slaughter and organising transport at these outlying units.”
She reckons she is lucky that her father has given her a free hand on the farm and responsibility for certain areas. She said: “I did not expect to come home so quickly, but a long-term worker retired so the time was right, and I feel it is a natural progression to bring the knowledge from my degree back to the farm.”
An essential part of her job is monitoring and analysing costs and margins, so she spends a lot of time in the office inputting information into Agrosoft, the QMS-subsidised management computer programme. Miss Argo is also a member of the management committee of the pig Monitor Farm group supported by QMS and Opportunity North East (ONE). This, she said, has certainly widened her knowledge.
Just before Christmas, the firm invested in a new Pocco wet feed system for pigs from 7kg to 35kg. This mixes the feed in small batches and feeds little and often, keeping the feed fresh all the time. This should mitigate any set-back the pigs have from leaving the sows, keeping the daily live-weight gains high. At the moment, the average feed conversion ratio from 7kg to 35kg is 1.6 and from 35kg to 110kg it is 2.78.
Each week the business finish 600 pigs at the target live-weight of 110kg, which gives an ideal carcase deadweight of 82kg when they are sold to QPL, Brechin. However, they also sell 300 pigs a week at 30kg for others to grow on.
With the objective of keeping more pigs at home, the Argos are in the process of building two sheds at Brigstanes, which will have the capacity for 5,280 finishing pigs, and Miss Argo said she is looking forward to the first pigs going into the new unit in April or May this year.
Luckily 2017 was a good year for pigs, with decent prices, but the fluctuations are hard for everyone to deal with. Miss Argo believes they are lucky to have the abattoir at Brechin, which is close to home, and fortunate that the supermarkets like to have local produce for their Scottish stores. She said: “When Brechin was out of action for three months last year, following a fire, we had to transport pigs to Manchester and Ireland – so we are delighted that Brechin is back up and running again.”
The challenge for all Scotland’s pig farmers is not only to get a pig from birth to slaughter as quickly and efficiently as possible, but also to give customers a good eating experience. Miss Argo is proud to be producing Specially Selected Pork and said: “It is great that QMS promotes the Scottish product, as our welfare standards are high and legislation is strict. It is rewarding to deliver a high-quality product.”
The firm, along with every other QMS-assured pig unit in Scotland, has signed up to the QMS Scottish Pig Health Charter. The charter was launched in 2015 by the industry to further enhance the range of measures already in place to protect, monitor and improve pig health on Scottish farms and add weight to the existing Scottish Pig Health Scheme, run by QMS.
There is no doubting Miss Argo’s passion for the business. She has learned from the bottom up from some of the long-term members of staff at D W Argo and from her dad, and now she is busy overseeing the whole production process and looking positively towards the future.