How to run a profitable small-scale piggery

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

  • Pig production is an option for producers looking for an extra stream of income or who wish to enter a niche market.
  • As with any farm, pig production offers many opportunities if the correct approach is taken.
  • The extra income of a small niche-market piggery can plug many financial holes on a farm, when needed.
  • The cost of the planned new piggery must be determined, which includes infrastructure, input as well as daily operating costs.
  • In any farming enterprise, big or small, a comprehensive health plan should be included in the planning phase before the piggery can be set up.

Seeing as the economy is not doing us any favours at the moment, producers are constantly on the lookout for extra income or a niche market that can be developed into much needed extra profit. In this regard, pig production is often considered as an option, as the perception exists that sows produce large litters and piglets can be reared in no time at all.

It is clear that this branch of agriculture is often overlooked, but running a pig farming enterprise offers a great many possibilities, with room around the table for both large commercial farms and small-scale producers who run on-farm piggeries aimed at tapping a niche market.

This is according to Kgadi Senyatsi, head of business development at the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO). She says that although there is only a handful of large commercial pig producers in the country, the number of small-scale producers who have bought into the industry is unknown. The number is estimated at some 6 000 small-scale producers running an estimated 30 000 sows. The number of sows each small-scale producer keeps, varies between five to 50 sows per farm.

As with any farm, pig production offers many opportunities if the correct approach is taken. What was seen in the past as a cheap, low-input farming enterprise has in many cases become a financial challenge, especially when run on a small scale.

A few decades ago, almost every farm had its own small piggery – often for own use and to produce fat for various purposes such as baking, cooking, candle making and even for beauty products. Vegetable oils have, however, started to take over many of these tasks; so much so, that these days pigs are kept mostly for their meat.

Pig farming on a small scale

The extra income of a small niche-market piggery can plug many financial holes on a farm, when needed. Kgadi says it will cost you a few rand to get the project off the ground. A prospective pig producer will have to make quite a few calculations and do some in-depth planning before this branch is well established.

The most important aspect to investigate is whether a market for this enterprise does in fact exist. A decision must also be made as to which type of production system will best suit the farming environment. Some of the questions that need to be answered beforehand are: Do you want to produce and sell weaners, or do you want to buy and raise weaners for slaughter?

Crunch those numbers

Once this is done, the cost of the planned new piggery must be determined. This includes infrastructure, input as well as daily operating costs.

When asked what such a project could cost the producer, Kgadi says there is no one-size-fits-all answer as many factors can play a role. This, for example, includes the size of the farm, the type of infrastructure that must be built in addition to what there is, and whether the farm has existing infrastructure that can be converted.

The preparation that goes into a small-scale piggery is essential. There is a lot of valuable information at a prospective pig producer’s disposal. SAPPO is involved in courses for novice pig producers. Financial support is also available for prospective producers who plan to embark on such a project.

An important component of the calculations that must be made is, of course, purchasing the pigs. Good genetics are available in the market. From the outset it is better to acquire the best genetics you can afford and the right breed for your purposes. Prospective producers can consult SAPPO for the contact details of relevant stud breeders.

Housing and facilities

Doing the calculations and putting the project on paper are the easy parts, but when it comes to building the facilities, things can get complicated quickly. For example, pigs in different stages of production have different housing needs and aspects such as the positioning of the facilities are crucial.

“Pig pens must be able to protect the animals from extreme temperatures. Cold weather can lead to mortalities among small piglets, while larger pigs can easily overheat in hot conditions, making them infertile if the temperature increases too much. The position of the pens is therefore vital.

“The space inside as well as between the pig pens is a factor that is often overlooked. The space between pens regulates the ventilation, while the space inside the pens determines whether pigs can produce optimally,” she says.

These are just some of the factors that come into play. The best approach, Kgadi emphasises, is to conduct a thorough assessment of the animals’ requirements beforehand, and to set up the housing in way that will best meet these requirements. This will save the producer a lot of money in the long run.

Health and biosecurity

In any farming enterprise, big or small, a comprehensive health plan should be included in the planning phase before the piggery can be set up. Prospective pig producers must make sure that good biosecurity measures are in place before any animals are purchased, and that health measures are carefully applied in the farming enterprise.

Biosecurity is a combination of measures ensuring that no infections or organisms that can cause infections, enter the farm. For example, pig pens must be fenced and have a gate so as to prevent unauthorised people from entering the pens. It is also best to buy animals from breeders who can provide proof of the animals’ health and disease status.

“If the mortality among pigs suddenly increases, the help of a veterinarian must be called in immediately,” she says.

Pig nutrition

Pigs are not exactly picky about what they eat, but it is still necessary to provide them with all the nutrients they need to produce and reproduce optimally, even in a small setting.

Pigs in different stages of production – growth, production or reproduction – have different nutritional requirements. Different diets should apply to satisfy their respective needs. For this, a feed company or nutritionist will be able to give the best advice.

Another important factor is the amount of clean water that must be available throughout. The amount of water pigs need is often underestimated. In this regard, Kgadi refers to Table 1, which provides a clear indication of the various amounts of drinking water required per animal. Apart from drinking water, there should be enough water to keep the pens clean.

Pig farming on a small scale or as an extra branch of the farming enterprise, is an opportunity that has excellent profit potential. The secret, however, lies in doing thorough planning beforehand. By taking a step-by-step approach to the project, working through all available information and calling on the advice of experts, pigs can generate a welcome extra income for the farm. – Koos du Pisanie, Stockfarm

For more information, send an email to Kgadi Senyatsi at kgadi@sappo.org or visit www.sappo.org. For information on Baynesfield Training Academy’s pig production courses, call 076 430 6899 or 078 048 8073, or send an email to gm@baynesacademy.co.za or info@sappo.org.

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