05 January 2019

Good accommodation and robust genetics – a winning combination for Yorkshire herd


Tom, Colin and Stephen Piercy (l-r) own and manage a 500-sow outdoor herd near York.
Productivity and pig quality have improve significantly since the introduction of Rattlerow genetics.

Investment in Rattlerow genetics and Aardvark farrowing huts has helped improve productivity and cut down maintenance on the Piercy Family’s 500-sow outdoor unit near York.

The breed to finish business is owned and managed by father Colin and brothers Tom and Stephen. It was restocked in 2014 and subsequently chose to move over to the Whiteroc damline. Soon after, it upgraded its farrowing accommodation to plastic huts, to reduce repairwork and the time spent mending equipment.

The blend of new genetics and the Rattlerow-designed, dome-shaped, fully-insulated Aardvarks has improved herd performance by 1.5 pigs weaned per sow.



The Piercy business operates a three-week batch system weaning piglets at four weeks of age.  A proportion of the progeny are sold to a local, independent finishing operation and the remaining progeny are reared on their own farm and marketed to a variety of independent retailers and niche outlets.

“Our improved performance comes from a combination of Rattlerow genetics and using Aardvark’s, and I’d say it’s a 50/50 split. Our litter performance is much better than it was, even though we’ve faced some fairly challenging conditions these the past couple of years, with prolonged wet conditions, snow and sub-zero temperatures last winter and some very extreme heat during the summer 2017 and 2018. It’s really tested us,” says unit manager Tom.

The breeding herd is currently weaning around 11 pigs per litter with piglets weighing 7.5kg at weaning. Herd performance continues to improve and an in-house gilt replacement programme was introduced 18 months ago and productivity remains consistent.

“Our improved performance comes from a combination of Rattlerow genetics and using Aardvark’s…” – Tom Piercy

The Piercy’s say that Rattlerow’s technical support, sound practical advice and genetic expertise has helped them fine tune its breeding strategy, optimise performance at all stages and that’s improving pig quality and production efficiency.

A recently farrowed litter on the Piercy’s outdoor unit. Good numbers and evenly-sized piglets.
Quality weaners from quality accomodation. Improving productivity is due to genetics and Aardvark huts.

“Things are coming together now. We’ve got the right outdoor genotype for the job – the Whiteroc’s are prolific and really easy to manage. We started using Danish Durocs at the end of last year as a terminal sire, and that’s working very well, too. We’re getting good, strong litters and so we’re now pushing for productivity,” says Tom.


Although the decision to invest in Aardvarks was prompted by a need to cut down repair work, Tom and his father Colin soon realised that the dome-shaped, fully-insulated huts had numerous advantages over traditional twin-skinned wood/metal farrowing arks.

The Piercy’s had spent considerable time and money insulating their original accomodation , but say they were never that convinced it made a difference. However, the Aardvarks changed their views.

“We weren’t that concerned about insulation, we just thought plastic huts would take less maintenance. But we were really impressed by the reduction in condensation as there’s hardly any in Aardvark’s, even on cold days,” Tom explains.

Inside the Aardvarks conditions remain dry and draught-free in all weathers, quite unlike the interior environment of  thier traditional farrowing huts. These observations raised questions about piglet morality rates and Tom wondered what proportion of it might have been due to inadequate maintenance and the somewhat variable environments found inside the previous metal/wood arks.

“Having full insulation makes such a significant difference and the investment’s more than paid for itself in terms of productivity and cost savings,” Tom explains.

The Piercy’s purchased 120 Aardvarks from Contented Products as a single order almost four years ago and have now decommissioned almost all of their traditional arks.


Inside Aardvarks pigs thrive as conditions remain dry, draught-free and comfortable in all weathers.

Thermal values

Although the they have not measured internal temperatures inside their Aardvarks during extreme conditions, Tom says sows do seem more comfortable and their behaviour has been noticeably different during the hot summer months.

“Our lactating sows tend to stay in their huts when temperatures escalate and don’t prefer to wallow or lie behind huts in the shade. They spend considerably more time with their litters on hot days, much more than they did when they were housed in traditional arks, so the piglets stay fed which is what you want when it’s hot,” he explains.

Thermal images taken on a Suffolk unit during the August 2018 heatwave demonstrated how internal temperatures of fully insulated plastic huts remained consistently lower than those recorded in traditional farrowing huts on the same site at the same time of day.

Inside a tradtional ark at the same time, on the same day in August 2018. Unbearably hot with some huts reaching more than 50 degrees C.
Inside an Aarvark on one of August 2018’s hottest days. Temperatures were a tolerable 27.5 degrees C.

On one of the UK’s hottest days ever recorded, midday temperatures inside Aardvarks reached between 27 and 35 degrees C, while hotspots of up to 52 degrees C were recorded inside some metal/wood twin-skinned, insulated huts.


“Having full insulation makes such a significant difference and the investment’s more than paid for itself in terms of productivity and cost savings…”