“Working with pigs, seeing how fascinating they are from birth all the way to slaughter made me want to begin farming with them.”
These are the words of Free State pig farmer Mosele Lepheane, an event and marketing expert who proved that pig production could be lucrative for beginner farmers.
Many people believe that farming with pigs is just too difficult, or too dirty, to even attempt. However, its potential profitability is very motivating, and farming with pigs can be a delight once you get finally crack the recipe.
If you are considering becoming a pig farmer like Lepheane, then you’ve come to the right place.
Food For Mzansi gathered the very best tips and tricks to show you how to start your own piggery and make a success and a profit.
1. Shortcuts are expensive
You simply cannot move to the next step without consulting with an established pig farmer. There are simply too many things you do not know.
“Pig farming, or rather farming as a whole, is not a ‘get rich quick’ business,” says Lepheane. “There is a lot of effort, time and bleeding money in the process before realising the profits.”
If you want to avoid making the wrong decisions at the start, Lepheane suggests that registering for a short course in piggery as a must-do for beginners.
“The most difficult part of the journey for us was realising that shortcuts were actually costing us dearly. Proper research was absolutely of the highest importance. Research, research, and more research.”
For example, choosing a specific pig breed will be one of the first things you will have to research. This is at the discretion of the farmer, but be warned: not all pigs are created equal.
2. Get that land, baby!
The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) is the mouth-piece of pork producers in South Africa. This is important to know. We want you to prosper and you can only do that if you learn from the best in the business.
While it is the responsibility of any farmer to acquire land, SAPPO is able to advise farmers on the required land size. This will vary based on the intended unit size as well as the proposed production system.
Upon acquisition of the land, the farmer needs to contact environmental authorities for the arrangement of the environmental management plan as per the environmental regulations. The plan will ensure that the identified land is suitable for pig farming.
3. Finding a market first
SAPPO’s guidelines recommend that any prospective pig farmer must ensure that, prior to the operation of the piggery, there is a secured market within a reasonable distance from the production point. The prospective farmer should also do a feasibility study and further negotiate agreements with prospective markets.
Lepheane mentions several ways that you can do this:
- Find auctions where it’s an open market for everyone to bid on your product.
- You might get off-take agreements with meat suppliers to provide them with your products, but they have certain standards that your product must meet.
- You can sell to abattoirs. These can be local or far away, bearing transport costs in mind in relation to the amount per kilo expected.
- Sell to local butcheries.
- Try direct sales using word of mouth or social media as marketing tools.
4. Business plan and finances
Due to the intensiveness and complexity of pig farming, it is an enterprise that requires high start-up capital. Get quotations from inputs suppliers and approach financial institutions for financial assistance.
SAPPO can assist farmers with a generic business plan and provide a list of financial institutions.
Negotiate better deals when purchasing production inputs for your business operation. SAPPO can assist in identifying sources of production inputs for your piggery project.
5. Building a structure for the pigs
“Firstly, one needs to decide how many pigs they wish to farm with,” says Lepheane. “This will determine the size of the structure.”
You must also choose if you will farm your pigs free range or housed in pans. This will determine the type and cost of material. Lepheane suggests using recycled material to cut costs.
“There are articles on how to build a pig housing structure available on the internet, therefore more research is absolutely necessary.”
For a first-timer, Lepheane’s advice would be to do an extensive research of the types of breed they want to farm with, the prices, type and availability of feed, transportation and labour costs and eventually the market.
6. Feed, feed, feed!
There are two options here. Buy ready-mix feed provided by manufacturers or mixing your own. Buying the ready-made mix is the more costly option, and Lepheane advises mixing your own in order to reduce costs.
“This means buying ingredients in bulk and using a formula to mix the feed,” Lepheane says. “Dieticians can advise on the formula.”
Lepheane lists the following equipment that farmers must have if they want to farm with pigs:
- Source of constant fresh water, like a Jojo storage tank.
- A bakkie and a trailer or truck, or both.
- A hammer mill if you opt to self-mix feed.
- A weight scale.
- Storage space for feed.
8. Cash flow cycles
One can choose to become a breeder where you only breed and sell piglets (known as weaners).
You will sell piglets at four weeks or at around 18kg to 21kg. Other farmers choose to grow and sell them later.
“If you choose to grow and sell, you will buy weaners at 21kg then feed to grow them to between 90kg to 105kg to sell as porkers,” says Lepheane.
“Or grow them beyond the porkers’ weight and supply as baconer (a pig that is slaughtered for bacon, sausages, etc.).”
The turnaround time to sell the pigs as porkers if fed well is three to four months. The market that you will be supplying will determine the age, weight and type of product you want to sell.
9. Watch out for disease
“One of the most unexpected parts of pig farming for me was when we were hit by different diseases in three consecutive years,” says Lepheane. “Staring with the listeriosis to swine flu which almost crippled our business.”
“We were affected by our neighbours. Our area was under quarantine, though some of us were vaccinating.”
The tip to learn here is that regular vaccination and vet visits are important.
10. Last thoughts…
Besides doing sufficient research before starting your own pig farm, Lepheane suggests that you should subscribe to industry literature. She also advises reaching out to fellow pig farmers and joining farmers’ chat groups and organisations.