Establishing a piggery.

Commercial pig raising is a capital and labour intensive business; success requires a sound combination of business management, and pig husbandry knowledge and skills. Even keeping just a few pigs still requires husbandry skills and attention to legal requirements. Before establishing a piggery, there are several important elements to consider.

Industry trends and prospects.

Pig raising is increasingly concentrated on fewer farms than in the past. There are now a few large specialist piggeries, many family operated units and fewer farms (though still a large percentage of the total) with a small sideline piggery. Most piggeries are near grain-growing areas.

Pig prices are sensitive to the supply and demand for pork, ham, bacon and smallgoods. Most of Australia’s pork production is consumed by the domestic market, with about 12% exported (mostly to Singapore and New Zealand). Some pig meat (about 30% of amount of domestic production) is imported for use in cooked, boned-out products such as ham and bacon.

Rapidly changing technology is a feature of the pig industry to which the producer must readily adapt, managing the enterprise in a businesslike manner.

Production system and market.

Consider whether you intend to breed and grow pigs or just grow pigs, and whether to target large numbers direct to a processor, smaller numbers for local butchers, or grow free-range/organic pigs and market a branded product to a niche market. Both growing and marketing may be done independently or with a group of producers or in alliance with another sector such as a processor. Four basic pig sizes may be marketed:

  • baconers 50 to 105 kg dressed weight
  • porkers 30 to 50 kg dressed weight
  • stores 25 to 40 kg liveweight
  • weaners 15 to 25 kg liveweight.

The majority are sold at baconer weight for processing into cured products or as fresh pork. Pigs are commonly sold on consignment to a processing facility and may also be sold by private agreement, at auction or live over the scales. Buyers may contract with producers for the supply of pigs on a regular basis.

Most specialist producers keep a breeding herd and rear the progeny to baconer weight. This is usually the most profitable weight as the cost of maintaining the breeding herd is spread over the large amount of meat produced. The pigs may be kept at different sites, for example the grower pigs may be at a separate site and cared for by an employee or by a contract grower.

An alternative to owning and caring for breeders through to baconers is to contract grow (providing the sheds and labour to rear someone else’s pigs) or to be part of a group (alliance) of producers employing a manager to breed pigs where you (or someone you contract) rear your share of the growers from weaner age.

Porker-weight pigs are used for fresh meat. Stores and weaners are either moved or sold for growing out or for special consumer markets.

Lighter sale weights require a higher price per kg and more sows to match the income from heavier sale weights.

One option if you are only keeping a few pigs is to buy weaners or stores and rear them for sale as porkers or baconers. Obtaining pigs from several sources increases the risk of exposing your herd to disease.

Unit size.

The size of the unit will generally be in multiples of what one person or family can manage as well as whether there are other tasks on or off farm. Unit size may also be influenced by environmental requirements (such as area for spreading effluent, distances to houses), shed space available on the property, and by the load size of trucks.

The proposed piggery may need to employ part- or full-time labour, or be managed differently (e.g. on a large batch system with events such as farrowing happening every five weeks instead of continuously or weekly). If either the piggery or existing farm enterprises operate less efficiently, overall income may suffer. Modest capital investment in the other farm (or off-farm) enterprises may lift total income more economically than a larger sum required to establish a piggery. Personal skills and knowledge must also be considered. A small piggery is vulnerable at times of low returns, but the total farm income may be balanced by other enterprises. Economies of scale improve with increasing unit size, but it has been suggested that there is little advantage above 300 sows; production efficiency (such as pigs produced per sow a year) is not necessarily better on larger units.

Location.

Piggeries are usually sited on less fertile (cheaper) land in or near grain-growing areas and handy to markets. The piggery site needs to be accessible by road and have access to electricity and water. The site should be flat or preferably gently sloping for improved drainage.

Separation from existing piggeries and roads on which pigs are transported reduces the risk of new diseases being introduced. Piggeries need to be sited at a minimum separation distance to avoid interfering with life both on-site and off-site. The available land area needs to be large enough for the piggery buildings and for effluent and waste disposal (e.g. onto land used for crops), and to accommodate future feed-mixing facilities and piggery expansion, although piggery waste may be taken to other sites.

Before purchasing land, contact your relevant authority for advice – in Queensland, contact your council and our environmental officers.

Housing.

The type of housing is related to the production system and the unit’s size and thus, influences the capital required. Generally, the larger the piggery the more usual it is to house the pigs but the higher cost of housing must be covered by better production.

Pigs can be kept in paddocks; however, they require shelter to protect them and such a system tends to have a higher labour requirement with different skills, and production may be less efficient (e.g. more feed required to produce one unit of meat). Outdoor production is better suited to areas with reasonably well-drained soil (although not free draining into the water table, or heavy clay), preferably with rain spread throughout the year.

Separate housing or areas are generally provided for pigs of different ages because of their different feed and climatic requirements and to assist in maintaining herd health levels. Housing designs are available from companies specialising in piggery construction.

Capital.

An intensive piggery requires enough capital to cover buildings, equipment, stock, feed, labour and operating expenses until the first pigs are sold (at least five months, can be 11 months, depending on the purchase and sale age).

The building cost for an intensive piggery (contract-built using new materials) is estimated (in 2005) at $4500 per sow place for a unit that breeds and grows the pigs to baconer weight (excluding land and livestock), depending on the style of housing.

Prepare a cashflow budget to examine how much capital is needed to get the business going. This will show the likely income and expenses and whether the business can service a loan.

Assistance with budgeting and finding information on sources of rural finance is available (e.g. from accountants, rural officers with banks, Australian and Queensland Government financial counsellors).

Labour.

Labour is an important resource in the seven day-a-week piggery business. The general rule is one person for each 100-200 sows and their progeny. This depends on the amount of automation at the site (e.g. feeding systems, whether ready-mixed feed is used and if pig delivery and other tasks are done by others). One person with part-time help is the most common system on piggeries with up to 150 sows. One person with casual or family help can generally manage about 4000 grower pigs with automated feeding. Casual labour is often used in both

breed-to-finish and grow-out units of any size when other farm enterprises require attention, for weekends or holidays and for specific tasks such as loading and sorting pigs and cleaning.

Where full-time labour is employed, the owner has less control of production efficiency and the employee seldom has the same degree of interest as the owner. It sometimes can be difficult to obtain labour skilled in pig husbandry.

For the unskilled intending operator, some managerial skill, a liking for pigs, knowledge of them or the ability to learn is an advantage. It is a good idea to work in a piggery to gain practical experience. Accredited training courses and books on pig keeping are available.

Feed and water.

For fast, profitable growth, pigs need a nutritionally balanced diet. Feed costs are approximately 70% of expenditure and it takes about 4 t of feed to produce 1 t of meat. Therefore most piggeries are located in or near grain-growing areas where grain is cheaper and freight costs can be kept down.

Ready-mixed feed can be bought from stockfeed millers or milled on the farm from home-grown or purchased grain and protein-rich meals.

Farm mixing requires an investment in machinery, storage and ingredients. The decision to farm-mix is largely based on the cost of mixed feed but also involves personal inclination, availability of capital, labour, machinery and feed ingredients, the knowledge to formulate diets (or availability of a nutritionist) and the availability of alternative investments. Generally, ready-mixed feed is used until the piggery is well established financially and further investment in the business is warranted.

A reliable water source is essential for both livestock to drink and for cleaning. For pigs to drink and for washdown purposes, you are likely to need a minimum of 75 L per sow a day for baconer production but actual usage can be double this (an average in a 1998 survey was 177 L, with a range of 55 L to 320 L. Weather, housing and effluent management can make a difference e.g. summer or winter, spray cooling, straw or flushed pits, proportion of water recycled for flushing, additional water for irrigating with effluent) and additional storage is desirable in case of pump failure. Some sub-artesian water may be unsuitable for pigs due to high levels of minerals. Analyse the water to determine its suitability before use.

Stock.

Foundation stock are available from a number of sources. There is a greater disease risk if pigs are brought in from several different sources.

A large piggery will need to look to the bigger suppliers in order to obtain enough female stock. These will be bought in groups to establish the planned batch-farrowing system.

The supplying herd should follow a sound genetic improvement program. Boars should be performance tested, that is, they have performed above the average of their age group in required traits, for example, growth rate and leanness. Artificial insemination using chilled boar semen is readily available for improving genetics once the foundation stock are in place.

When a piggery is being established or restocked it is the ideal time to start a minimal-disease or high-health herd or more accurately a specific-pathogen free (SPF) herd, as it is usually too costly to destock and restock later. In these herds, the pigs are free of certain diseases so there is opportunity for better growth rate, fewer deaths and lower health costs.

Legal requirements.

There are requirements that apply to all businesses, such as workplace health and safety and if you are keeping pigs, other legislation also applies such as environmental licensing and water access.

Swill feeding is illegal in Australia as it could lead to pigs being infected with diseases such as foot and mouth disease. Swill feeding includes using food (or food scraps) containing or possibly having contacted animal matter (e.g. from restaurants, hospitals and domestic households as feed for pigs, poultry and ruminants).

If you have one or more head of pigs at your property, your place must be registered with us. All pigs must be identified for proof of ownership and to enable them to be traced from property of origin through to the consumer as part of national livestock identification requirements.

The Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals include codes referring to pigs and these codes (developed and reviewed by representatives of the Australian and state/territory governments in consultation with stakeholders) provide a guide to states/territories in developing their own legislation.

Before purchasing land, check with your relevant authorities – start with local councils and state departments’ primary industries/agriculture groups.

Producer organisations.

Australian Pork Limited is a national body representing Australian pig producers. It is a producer-owned not-for-profit company combining marketing, export development, research, innovation and strategic policy development to assist in securing a profitable and sustainable future for the Australian pork industry. Most states and/territories have a body that represents the industry in all matters that might affecting it, in Queensland this is Pork Queensland Inc.