Young Farmers profile: How Will de Feyter, 27, filled a business 'void' with pigs
As part of our regular series of profiles on the region's Young Farmers' Club (YFC) members, Norfolk county chairman WILL DE FEYTER explains how pigs have become a valuable and award-winning addition to his evolving farm business.
At the age of 27 I am probably considered positively geriatric in YFC now, having joined North Walsham in 2009. To be county chairman in my tenth year of membership is quite a privilege and an honour as the organisation has given me so much and arguably helped shape me as the individual I am today.
I was first featured in the EDP Young Farmers profiles back in 2015, having been trading as a livestock farmer for just over a year whilst supplementing income with contract labour on my parents' arable farm. Sheep were the mainstay of my business with a few pigs on a contract finishing agreement also featuring. I had also ventured into selling lamb direct to the public six months previously.
Fast forward to 2020 and I can say it's been one big learning curve and I'm quite prepared to admit I haven't got it right all the time. But from what mistakes I have made I would certainly say I have learnt from them and that is what's important. This is something that has been instilled in me right from the start with Young Farmers.
My business has changed quite a bit in the last few years. The sheep and pigs are very much part of it, as is the contract labour aspect - although in very different proportions to what they were in 2015. The size of the flock doubled and then this year I made the decision to reduce numbers back to where I started. This is mainly down to my pessimism of how Brexit will affect the sheep trade and also due to increasing rents on grassland. I produce enough to comfortably supply my customers who buy direct from me and carry on with the farmers' markets, whilst selling a few into the local livestock markets.
The contract labour side has also shrunk considerably. I have to confess as a ploughman I was probably quite average - however I do still jump on a tractor when required and I probably enjoy it more now as it's not as regular as it was.
So what has filled the void? The answer is pigs. My contract finishing operation has increased six-fold due to the opportunity to take on an aged but useful piggery local to me. This has become the mainstay of my business.
Whilst the piggery I rent is old, it works well. I receive the piglets at 7kg and four weeks old, and they leave after 20 weeks around the 110kg mark. I send the smaller piglets to a smaller unit so a closer eye can be kept on them to ensure they thrive, whereas the rest are kept at the main unit.
High welfare is a priority for me and we are Red Tractor and RSPCA assured. Attention to detail is also key - it is far better to deal with any issues in the early stages than wait for them to develop further. I am fortunate to be able to work with exceptional veterinarians and fieldsmen to ensure this.
In November, I was very proud to receive Finisher of the Year at the National Pig Awards. This proved to me that, with good stockmanship, old sheds can and will produce good quality pigs. Although saying that I do intend to build my own new piggery to replace the ageing piggery I rent as its lifespan is limited, being more than 30 years old.
On the YFC side of things I have gained some incredible friends who probably think I'm slightly mad for my passion in pigs and sheep. The social side has proven a welcome break from a challenging yet rewarding industry. YFC socials, dinner dances, hockey and competitions have proven a great way of getting together and having fun.
Whilst YFC offer a great level of training it should be noted that the best form of on-the-job training offered is taking on a role at club or county level. The lessons it offers not only helps you develop as a young farmer but also in business or in your careers.
Whilst I am arguably coming the end of my time in YFC, I envy those who are now starting theirs. It is as exciting as it as ever has been and I encourage all members to get stuck in as after all the more you do the more you'll get out of it.
- Name: Will de Feyter
- Age: 27
- Occupation: Arable, pig and sheep farmer
- YFC club: North Walsham
- How long have you been a YFC member? 10 years
- North Walsham YFC meets at Rossi's on Tungate Road on Tuesday evenings. For more details about Norfolk Young Farmers contact the county office on 01603 731307.