Ashleigh Farms leads the way for quality and sustainability

1 May , 2024  

Ashleigh Farms Ltd is a third-generation family pig farm in West Waterford which places a strong emphasis on welfare, innovation and the environment.

From humble beginnings in the early 1960s when David McGrath started out with just two sows, Ashleigh Farms has grown into a successful 2,000-sow enterprise with units in Ballinameela, Knocknaglogh and Caliso Bay. It is among the top performing farms in Europe, producing up to 35 pigs per sow per year. Caliso Bay, which is near Youghal, is also home to a state-of-the-art mill that produces almost all of the feed supplied to the pigs. In addition, Ashleigh Farms caters for its own transport needs, making the enterprise virtually self-sufficient.

The feed ingredients are high-quality raw materials sourced from approved suppliers. Ashleigh Farms carries out strict quality assurance protocols to ensure only the highest-quality feed is available to its pigs. The diets are formulated by specialist nutritional companies and are constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure maximum efficiency is achieved.

Jim – David’s son – and Eleanor McGrath grew the business into what it is today before handing over the reins to their three sons Ken, Jason and James in 2020. Supported by a 20-strong team, their goal is to keep Ashleigh Farms at the forefront of all aspects of pig production to help it to grow further and remain sustainable in the industry. All involved with the business have a real passion for pig farming as they strive to produce high-quality pork as efficiently as possible.

Ashleigh Farms is at the cutting edge of sustainable, modern, innovative pig farming, focusing on genetics, animal health, welfare, production output, staff development and the environment to achieve outstanding results. The McGrath’s are one of only 230 commercial pig producers in Ireland who operate about 400 farms between them. Incredibly, these 230 producers support over 8,000 jobs and contribute almost €1.5 billion to the Irish economy annually. Only beef and milk production rank above pig production in terms of output.

The Irish pig industry is underpinned by the activities of pig farmers and primary and secondary processors as well as a wide-ranging critical supply chain, including feedstock providers, logistics support, veterinary services and equipment suppliers. Collectively, the activities and expenditures of these sectors provide important national, regional and local economic benefits.

Despite punching well above its weight, however, the Irish pig industry – as across Europe – has faced significant challenges in recent years due to a range of factors, including rising feed and energy costs, and reduced pig meat prices. The combined effects of Brexit, Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine led to the perfect storm here in Ireland. These factors negatively impacted pig farmer margins and operating profits, with many farmers accumulating month-on-month losses.

“2021 and ’22 was extremely challenging,” Ken McGrath acknowledges.

“You had a once-in-a-generation event where demand for pork was down combined with much higher input costs. The way we approached it was to heighten our cost control without compromising on the quality of the product. Cost control and staff retention helped us to get through the worst of it. We have a family and team ethos here. Our teams have shown incredible loyalty for which we are extremely grateful.”

The McGrath’s certainly can’t be accused of resting on their laurels. In 2020, James established Ashleigh Farms Poultry which is a 19,000-hen broiler breeder farm producing three million chickens a year. James also rears 120 yearling cattle to store or finished in the home farm of Ballinameela. 

In 2022, the brothers set up Ashleigh Breeders which is a collaboration with Danish Genetics to provide high-quality replacement breeding stock for the Irish and UK market. Danish Genetics’ breeding system is built on more than 100 years’ experience with professional pig breeding combined with world-class genetics.

“Ashleigh Breeders’ mission is to produce high-quality gilts from our pure breed Large White herd. The results of the collaboration with Danish Genetics have been very good in terms of feed efficiency and sow output. It allows us to produce more pork by using less feed. It’s a more sustainable way of doing things,” Ken explains.

Ashleigh Farms’ commitment to sustainability, innovation and the environment is further underlined by its partnership with Glasport Bio who have developed a whole cycle approach to Greenhouse Gas mitigation. Handling approximately 9,000 m3 of pig slurry per year, the biogas plant in Ballinameela not only reduces methane emissions, but also produces high-quality fertiliser.

“In 2022, we started a partnership with Glasport Bio who have developed GasAbate which is a sustainable nutrient-rich manure storage solution. It has proven to be effective in reducing greenhouse gaseous emissions and odour, and improving slurry handling,” Ken continues.

“We have seen the benefits of trials, primarily in biogas and odour. We’re now developing a project to use extra methane to generate heat on the farm and to offset fossil fuel heating.”

Biowave Technologies is another sister company that is transforming organic waste streams into renewable energy resources. Serving the industrial and municipal Anaerobic Digestion markets, Biowave uses microwave pre-treatment technology to liberate difficult-to-break-down organic bi-products prior to being anaerobically digested for the creation of renewable energy. The technology enhances biogas yields significantly and improved throughput time for digesters.

All three pig units are Bord Bia and Red Tractor quality-approved. As well as overseeing an environmentally-friendly pig production unit, Ashleigh Farms maintains a keen emphasis on animal welfare, including comfortable housing, diet and constant monitoring.

Looking to the future, Ken concludes by saying: “Our aim is to continue to develop a sustainable pig business, to grow our breeders’ business and to reduce our carbon footprint further. We are also committed to working with processors on producing sustainable, value-added pork and developing further renewable energy projects.”

Ashleigh Farms Ltd



Co. Waterford.

Telephone: 058 68172

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.ashleighfarms.ie

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 12 No 1, March/April 2024