The number of pig farmers in Ireland has dwindled considerably over the years and it is now believed that there are only 280 pig farmers operating here.
The main reason for this is the volatility of the market and how uncertain pig prices can be. Last year, was a better year than normal price wise, but 2018 has resulted in poor prices so far.
This begs the question, why be involved in pig farming when there is so much uncertainty? To answer that question, Irish Tractor & Agri spoke to Gary Pepper of GP Pigs in Cootehill, Co Cavan.
Gary is one of the new generation of pig farmers in the country. Hailing from a farming background, there are three separate farming industries run from the family homestead.
“My father Eddie would run a dairy farm, while my brother Darren looks after the poultry side of the business and I look after the pigs,” revealed Gary.
When Gary first took over the pig unit in 2005, they housed 250 sows, but now that has doubled to 500. Gary is a progressive pig farmer who is not afraid to invest in the business to make the necessary changes to help get the best out of the herd.
“Along with four full-time staff, I now run a fully-integrated unit – from farrowing right the way through to finish,” said Gary.
“We produce around 15,000 pigs per year and the majority of them would go to Rosderra Meats in Edenderry. We have placed major investment in the business over the years including the installation of our own mill, which has proven to be very beneficial. A wide range of diets are formulated including: sow; weaner; grower and finisher rations. We would also use our own nutritionist.”
Gary added that he could control the majority of the business by his decision making, but stressed that there was one area that he had no control over.
“Unfortunately, we can’t control the market price and that is the major issue in the industry. Every other area of pig farming can be controlled by the farmer, but not the price. This makes it almost impossible to budget from year to year and you are just looking to average it out on a yearly basis.”
Every quarter, their Teagasc advisor visits the farm where performance figures are recorded and Gary admits that this is a big help.
“You know how the unit is performing and the figures don’t lie. If the unit isn’t performing, you will soon know about it”
Producing quality pigs is something that drives Gary on and to do so, health and safety and animal welfare are paramount.
“I strive to keep mortality low, good feed efficiency and to give the pigs every opportunity to perform. Good housingis essential, while the units are well ventilated.”
GP Pigs meet the Red Tractor standards, which is a key requirement in order to supply the Tesco chain of stores. Gary and his team of four full time employees’ hard work has been recognised by Teagasc and GP Pigs is consistently in the top 10% of farms in the country.
“We continuously strive to improve the facilities and that helps keep us on top of things. We’re out every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Gary added that is important to have a good relationship with his bank, given the volatile nature of the market.
“I rely heavily on my bank – AIB – and it has always been a good relationship. I always liaise with them and they know how the unit is performing – whether it’s good or bad.
“AIB knows exactly what I am thinking. I don’t just arrive in and expect that I’m going to get funds; it knows exactly what I am thinking well in advance.”
Given the nature of the business, Gary could be forgiven for not looking too far down the line, but he is always thinking ahead.
“The aim was to double the amount of sows here and we’ve done that. For the last year or more,it has all been about controlling the costs. The aim is to be more efficient and get the best I can out of what I have.”
With a wife and two young kids, Gary admits that there are other priorities to take care of on a daily basis.
“You’re outlook to life changes when the kids arrive and you have to make time for them as well. I think we manage both very well now. Efficiency is the key and we are learning all the time.”
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 5, August 2018