An Abergavenny pig producer calculates that his 25-sow herd is producing 150 more piglets a year, an increase in performance of over 37 per cent , as a direct result of knowledge he gained on breeding and animal health through Menter Moch Cymru training.

Performance in Kyle Holford and Lauren Smith’s herd of Large Black x Duroc sows sits in the top 20 per cent for outdoor herds which is all the more remarkable because they run a rare breed cross pig.

“Through the training we have received from Menter Moch Cymru, specifically around the timing of service, the body condition of the sow and farrowing and weaning management, we have become so much more efficient,’’ says Kyle. “I reckon we are producing an extra 150 piglets a year.’’

As a metric of performance, the business is achieving 26 pigs weaned per sow per year.

Kyle and Lauren had no background in farming when they moved from London to near Abergavenny, in 2014 to establish a pig herd, selling the meat to family and friends.

They now have 25 breeding sows producing around 550 pigs a year, with the meat marketed directly to butchers locally and in London.

From the launch of Menter Moch Cymru in 2017, the couple tapped into the support available. “We have benefited so much from the programme; it has supported us throughout our journey,’’ says Kyle.

Kyle and Lauren have attended 32 training sessions, ranging from practical sessions on administering artificial insemination to butchery and processing, the latter of which they have put to good use on their on-farming cutting unit.

“I can pinpoint every single talk and how we have improved on this and that aspect of the business as a result of it,’’ says Kyle.

Their on-farm processing unit opened in April 2017. “We bring the whole carcass back and butcher it here which not only saves on cost but we are able to produce a really good product precisely how we want to,’’ Kyle explains.

Involvement with the Menter Moch Cymru programme has not only provided Kyle and Lauren with extensive knowledge on pig production but with one of the most valuable resources of all – contacts in the industry.

“The webinars and training have put us in contact with experts, some of the best in the industry, people we would never have known had it not been for Menter Moch Cymru,’’ Kyle points out.

Menter Moch Cymru has also put the couple in touch with local pig farmers, through a Producer Group.

“It is nice to have that network of farmers in the area,’’ says Kyle.

The couple have also had the opportunity to be involved in valuable research.

A recent on-farm research trial, run by Menter Moch Cymru and Farming Connect, investigating the role of grazing pigs in diverse grasses on the fatty acid profile of pigmeat, showed a significant increase in a-Linolenic acid (ALA).

There are known to be multiple benefits to humans from eating products containing ALA, including preventing heart attacks, lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol and reversing hardening in blood vessels.

Kyle says the results could allow the business to add value by offering a unique selling point.

“It was fascinating to look at the relationship between feeding pigs forage and the effect it has on meat and fat quality, to find out that it effects the fat and makes a healthier product was just phenomenal.

“We know there are lots of benefits to the quality of meat by rearing pigs at grass and to be able to quantify it scientifically is a big thing for me.’’

In 2018 Kyle and Lauren won two Great Taste Awards and in 2021 it was a finalist in the Marketing Initiative category in the Pig World Awards.

Kyle and Lauren have also taken advantage of Menter Moch Cymru study tours, to Cornwall in 2018 and to Devon earlier this year.

“The farmers we met were really inspirational about what is possible and the importance of using the story of the product in the marketing. That fed through to those of us taking part in the visits, providing that spark of inspiration,’’ says Kyle.

The farm also hosted a training day for vets organised by Menter Moch Cymru – and through that Kyle and Lauren were able to pinpoint an issue with enzootic pneumonia in their own herd and given very valuable advice on how to eliminate it.

“The disease passes from one litter to the next so we were told that if we vaccinated and kept different batches of piglets separate, we would get rid of the disease, and we have.’’

As a direct result of that, the feed conversion efficiency ratio increased by 0.2.

The business also received funding from Menter Moch Cymru for a Herd Health Plan.

Without the support of Menter Moch Cymru, Kyle believes the business would be in a different position to the one it is in today.

“We would be a lot less efficient; we are in such a better place with a very efficient herd because of all of that training and support. We are incredibly lucky to have Menter Moch Cymru in Wales,’’ he says.