Vice-chairman of the IFA Pigs Committee, Roy Gallie owns a small but successful self-sustaining commercial piggery at Garrisker, Broadford in North Kildare. His father put down roots there more than six decades ago, and we caught up with Roy to discuss his farm and piggery in particular, as well as the myriad of challenges facing the hard-pressed Irish pig farmer of today.
If you are wanting to get rich quick then avoid pig farming as the odds are stacked against it. Roy finds it a frustratingly unpredictable and volatile segment of agriculture, with downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on overheads leaving producers vulnerable from one year to the next, never sure what to expect. A long-term approach is necessary.
It’s not a business for the meek, faint-hearted or impatient as a long-term approach is absolutely necessary.
There are easier ways to make money for most pig farmers therefore, it’s a labour of love.
and you need a genuine passion for all things pig-related. When factoring in inflation, the price per kilo of pig meat has actually declined significantly over the past 40 years. This fact speaks for itself.
Roy produces high-genetic merit F1 gilts from his 180-sow herd and knows more than most the sacrifices required and how much effort needs to be invested to receive a payback. The fact that he has persevered for all his working life – striving to make his modest operation as dependable, independent, self-sufficient and efficient as possible – is testament to Roy’s determination and work ethic.
His passion for pigs is unquestionable, dating back to when his father, Sandy, settled in Ireland from Scotland in the 1950s.
Roy went to Agricultural College in Aberdeen and then went to Saudia Arabia for 18 months to milk cows with Mastock, who were pioneering desert agriculture for the Saudi Royal family at the time. No pigs there so when Roy took over the family farm himself, he decided to focus the farm on a pigs and tillage operation.
Operating on a small scale, Roy is wholly self-sufficient in that he grows and mills all his own feed, except for the creep rations. He breeds and sells F1 replacement gilts for Elite Sires and is now fully registered with the DanAvl breeding programme.
Garrisker Farm remains completely disease-free and has been so since the mid 1980s when Roy cleared the farm out and imported disease-free stock from Blessington Farms. Well known pig vet, Des Mills guided Roy down the minimal disease route and friends including former IFA chairman George Rigg and the team at Moss Veterinary Partners,helped him maintain his minimal disease status, originally selling gilts for Pig Improvement Assosiates (PIA). This company’s demise led Roy down the Danish pigs path and his present relationship with Alan Shepherd of Elite Sires.
Roy grows his own Winter Wheat, Winter and Spring Barley on his 100 ha farm to produce all his own pig rations. Roy, with his 3 workmen, Arik Zabiegly, Shane Sutton and Ollie Miggin do all the tillage operation, which of course includes all field work drying, storing, milling of the cereals and rationing to the pigs in conjunction with Cargill in Naas and their nutritionist Ultan Keady.
All the males from Roy’s 180 sows, each of whom produce 26 pigs per year, are slaughtered at Coogan Meats in Trim and go to various different outlets through Brendan Clarke of Ferbane Pork & Bacon. The
Danish purebred Large White sows are mated to a Landrace boar to produce F1 offspring of the highest Index in Ireland. The highest index females are mated to a Large White boar to produce replacement stock for Roy’s piggery. These ladies are serious animals to produce piglets and are currently producing 17 born alive per litter The progress that is being made in genetics is staggering and Roy is trying to get the very best genetics he can possibly get into the herd
The old saying that “an ounce of breeding is worth a ton of feeding” is a favourite of Roy’s. Compared to other units, the piggery at Garrisker is quite old, with some of the buildings dating back over a hundred years. But everything is maintained to a reasonable level and a new loose-housing unit for lactating sows was installed three years ago.
Traditionally in Ireland, family farms stay in the family, but like quite a few of his friends, Roy admits there’s uncertainty about what will become of his farm and the pig enterprise going forward. He doesn’t have any of his children coming after him who want to farm so a succession plan is currently being looked at which will include the expertise offered by the ‘Land Modility Service’. As he says, he has great staff on the farm, three super men whom he couldn’t compliment enough. He also admits to probably being a little over-staffed if anything but he is happy with it that way. Rather than borrowing from the bank and investing in more pigs and buildings, he has invested in staff, breeding stock and self sufficiency and so far it has worked out well enough, through some fairly tough times.
Margins have always been tight and money is hard to come by with overheads rising and income doing anything but. There have been a litany of body blows to the pig industry over the past 10 years in particular, which have sent pig prices plummeting, while the rise in feed prices was another disaster. The economics of it are so tight that the only way through it is to try to keep overheads down.
He grows all his own cereals and has them at first cost but there’s still a lot of money tied up. He is currently buying seed barley that he will harvest in 2018, feed to pigs in 2019, the last of whom will be sold in early 2020!
An optimist by nature, Roy points out that there are a number of issues being addressed by the Pigs Committee on the IFA to improve the Irish pig farmer’s lot. “Past chairman, Timmy Cullinan, instigated the setting up of a National DNA database of all boars used on Irish farms. It is now possible to test the paternity of pig meat to verify if it is from an Irish farm or not. If a label says that a product is Irish – or if it has an Irish name or flag on the packaging – then that product should be Irish.Testing of product on supermarket shelves is ongoing and anomalies are being addressed as this goes to press. It is estimated that this scheme alone has added 4-5 cent per kilo to the price of pigmeat in Ireland. The database must be sufficiently robust and it is continually being validated. Ireland was visionary in setting up this DNA testing programme and other countries are now looking to follow suit.”
Roy is a past President of the Pig Health Society and endeavours to do what he can to advance the cause of all Irish pig farmers through his work on the IFA’s Pig Committee. The job of Chairman is an onorous one that requires a huge time input.,and he is delighted that Tom Hogan has handed responsibility of his farm to the next generation and taken on the chairmanship of this important committee.
Robert Malone, the current secretary is doing trojan work, as did Amy Cahill, Deirdre O’Shea, James Brady and Ned Walsh, before him. “There is a superlative team of people in the IFA and it’s so important for pig farmers to have that political arm. Current issues on the pig committee’s table include the Nitrates review, the TAMS grants, licencing of pig units by the EPA, meeting the major retailers, Bord Bia and the factories slaughtering the pigs. Then there is representation in Brussels on various committees that we are affiliated to, dealing with issues such as Anti microbial reistance, the cessation of tail docking and castration and the biosecurity of the European pig herd from notifiable diseases, currently African Swine Fever. Needless to say this has to be funded and it is vitally important that all pig farmers agree to pay their fair share to the IFA through the levy or affiliation system.”
While it is easy to use IFA as a scapegoat when things go wrong, were there not a strong and active association representing pig farmers, we would be far far worse off in all aspects of the business of producing the highest quality pig possible for the consumers we respect and rely on to decide to buy pig meat sourced from exclusively Irish farms such as Roy’s.
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 5 No 8, December 2017/January 2018