An East Anglian contractor has come up with a system that can literally smooth out potential areas of conflict between outdoor pig-keepers and arable farmers.
While they tick all the welfare boxes, free-range sows are no respecters of the land. Their rooting and wallowing can leave paddocks looking like battle fields, with crater-like holes pitting the surface.
After being called in to reinstate paddocks for local outdoor pig farmers, Robert Self, of Grange Farm, Creeting St Mary, near Ipswich, spent two years developing a grading machine which will restore the most uneven land to a cultivatable state for subsequent cropping. This has proved so successful that he is offering his service beyond Suffolk and Norfolk — as far as outdoor pig-keeping areas in Yorkshire in the north and Hampshire in the west.
“In particular, outdoor pig farmers who are renting arable land do not want to cause friction with their landlords,” commented Self.
He built his own grader, dubbed the Land Plane, which has a 14'(4.2m) wide hydraulically-operated blade, towed behind a 100hp crawler tractor. During passes over rough ground this can be adjusted to remove soil from mounds and deposit it in the hollows, leaving a smooth surface. Wallows, fence lines, huts, track-ways and feeding areas need particular attention. A tine attachment is used to rip and drain wet areas down to a depth of 20"(51 cm).
He settled on this rig having found bulldozers were too slow, commercial graders were unsuitable and wheeled tractors couldn’t provide enough traction in wet conditions. “I am confident that I have got it right now,” he said.
The grader costs £10,000 to make, in materials alone, and he reckons a similar piece of equipment from a commercial company would be priced at £20,000 to £30,000.
The equipment can be used under most conditions and it is possible to level between 15-25 acres (8-10ha) per day, depending upon soil type. Self charges an hourly rate for the service depending upon the state of the land and says most farmers find it good value for money as arable cultivations are not delayed once the pigs have been moved on.
Hugh Waterer, who runs 1,000 sows on 120-acres of rented land at Alde House Farm, Iken, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, has used Self’s levelling service for the first time this year and is very pleased with the result.
The soil is very light and sandy — ideal for outdoor pigs — but because the land is sloping, different levels can be created by the sows.
“I used to use a digger driver, but it wasn’t really the tool for the job,” he said. Hugh Waterer aims to leave the land in a state which is easy to cultivate for the following arable tenant.