JDH Farms Ltd is a 370-sow enterprise run by brothers Dermot and Joe Healy near Tullow, Co. Carlow. While JDH Farms has been in business for less than a decade, the brothers are third-generation pig farmers.
The Healy’s are one of just 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.
Thankfully, with pig prices on the rise again, the worst seems to be over and a return to profitability is forecast for 2023. The increase in pig price can be attributed to a tightening of supplies and market demands which is good news for farmers as it’s a sign that the market is beginning to stabilise after a prolonged period of oversupply and cost challenges.
“Things are definitely improving after a couple of very difficult years. Not only are pig prices at a record high, but grain prices have come down which is a big help also,” Dermot Healy says.
“When grain and energy prices are controlled by outside factors, there is very little you can do. Energy costs are two-and-a-half times what they were before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They haven’t come down, but at least grain prices have.”
To counteract spiralling energy costs, the Healy’s recently invested in a 100kW solar panel system which was installed by Local Power from Moynalty in Co. Meath. They’re already reaping the benefits of the system which allows them to do all their heavy electrical work during the day with less expense, while also being more sustainable.
The JDH Farms piggery is located just outside Ardattin village. The farrow-to-finish farm was established in 2014, but the Healy name has been synonymous with the pig industry going back to the early 1980s when both Joe and his late father Michael first got involved. Joe also runs Healy Pigs Ltd and Wexford Pig Development Ltd.
Dermot followed in Joe’s footsteps by attending Multyfarnham Agricultural College before going on to complete a Pig Management course in Athenry in 1998. “There was an existing piggery here which we purchased off our older brother Eamon some years ago,” he explains.
The 370 Large White Landrace Cross sows at JDH Farms produce 32 pigs per year which are supplied to Dawn Pork & Bacon in Granagh, Co. Waterford. Dermot and Joe invested heavily in the early years of the business to ensure that their facilities are to the highest standard possible as the health and welfare of the pigs is of paramount importance to them.
The pig unit has been completely revamped and the end result is a modern facility which prioritises health and safety.
“The original unit housed 250, but we can now accommodate 370 sows thanks to the expansion work we’ve undertaken in the last few years. It’s easy to work in and welfare-friendly for man and beast.”
Consolidation is the name of the game now as Dermot and Joe – who have Martin Molloy and James Agar working alongside them – look to lay solid foundations for the future.
“We would like to go automated as much as we can and reduce labour on the manual end of things. We are producing good numbers and our aim is to farm them as best as we can.”
To that end, they produce their own feed utilising a Big Dutchman mill and quality feeds equals healthy pigs.
“Barley, wheat, maize and soya are the four main components and that helps us towards our aim of keepings costs under control,” Dermot outlined.
It’s a sensible strategy considering that pig farmers can struggle to secure a fair return from the marketplace. A rebalancing of power in the food supply chain is required to deliver a viable price for farmers, and a return on their work and investment.
Dermot is a member of the Mid Region of the IFA Pigs Committee who deal with issues such as pig prices, feed prices, legislation (welfare and the environment), education, training and promotion. A few years ago, the Committee developed a world-first DNA traceability programme, ‘DNAcertified’, that allows the IFA to clearly identify where customers are being misled in relation to the origin of their pig meat products.
Passionate about pig farming, Dermot and Joe would like to take this opportunity to thank their customers and suppliers for their continued support.
JDH Farms Ltd
Telephone: 086 873 7292
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 4, August/September 2023