Open range pork finds market niche

26 Feb, 2012 01:00 AM
Peter Bradford with some of his pigs cooling down in the shade of the tree.
Peter Bradford with some of his pigs cooling down in the shade of the tree.

THE market going little pig and his four brothers have had young children squealing with delight for decades.

But for Peter and Cathy Bradford, Boyup Brook, little pigs are much more than an amusing nursery rhyme.

The Bradfords have been involved in pig farming for over 40 years and while the word 'piggery' brings to mind small pens and large sheds, this couldn't be further from the truth for their operation.

Since becoming involved in growing pigs when he came back to the farm after a short-lived stint in the city, Peter has been a passionate advocate of open paddocks and free range pork.

"None of our pigs have ever spent time in sheds," he said.

"They are born outside and live outside until they leave the property."

And according to Peter and Cathy this open range type of farming is more than just about the "feel-good" feeling of good animal welfare.

"The science behind free range is there in terms of the quality of the pork it produces," he said.

"Our pigs are outside all the time which allows them to develop a good hide which leads to a much better crackling.

"And when anything is getting exercised it produces more red blood cells which are directly responsible for retaining moisture in the meat."

Peter said over the last 40 years not much had changed in the way he and Cathy grow pigs but a new system recently put in place by Australian Pork Limited (APL), had allowed them to register as open range pig producers and develop the Killara Open Range Pork brand.

"Australian Pork Industry Quality (APIQ) Range certification is a quality assurance system that APL has recently developed for pig producers," he said.

"Quality assurance has been around the pig industry for a good number of years but recently it has been revised to allow for the ability to be certified as free range producers, outdoor bred or certified (intensive).

"And we are the only APIQ-certified free range producers in WA at this point in time."

Peter has been heavily involved in the changes to the APIQ system.

"We have been doing this type of farming for 40 years and to be honest we didn't have to change that much in our operation to get the accreditation to be certified," he said.

"What makes the APIQ Free Range Certification system work so well is that it has been developed and reviewed collectively by pig producers around Australia as well as government bodies and other industry experts."

Peter and Cathy run 50 sows on 20 hectares of their 585ha property which also holds 2000 Merino ewes.

Each of the sows has an average of nine piglets a litter and two litters a year making a total of 900 piglets born on the property annually.

The sows are joined to the two boars on a rotation type system which allows for a weekly turnoff of around 10-13 porkers.

"We have sows going with the boars all the time," Peter said.

"When we have weaned the sows from their piglets they go into a paddock with the boar and when she is ready the boar mates her.

"It is Mother Nature at its best and it works very well for us and for what we are trying to achieve."

Peter and Cathy supply their Killara Open Range Pork to a number of butchers both regionally and in the city.

Christian Symonds from WA Exclusive Meats in Carlisle said the Killara Open Range Pork was "head and shoulders" above the rest in terms of quality.

"The texture and colour of the pork is exceptional and we find that we have a lot of customers coming back time and time again for this specific product," Christian said.

Ian Johnson from Melville Heights Meat Supply also commented that the Bradford's pork was a consistent quality natural product.

It is not easy producing pork without the temperature control that shed pigs receive but Peter and Cathy have a few systems in place in to help protect the pigs against the elements, particularly the heat.

Scattered throughout the paddocks are movable A-frame corrugated iron shelters, shadecloth shelters and plenty of trees to provide shelter against the heat.

"The heat knocks the pigs around pretty quickly," Peter said.

"Once it gets over 32 degrees, depending on the humidity, we go out every two hours after about 11am and water the pigs down and water the shaded camp areas to keep them cool."

After talking to Peter for only a few minutes it was clear to see how passionate he is about the welfare and the care of the pigs.

The open-sided tin sheds and shadecloths have all been developed through a trial and error system.

"We have discovered that the shades in the paddocks must be able to move otherwise they just get destroyed," Peter said.

"Open range pigs are very curious and if I am in the paddock fixing a fence or water trough they will always come up and see what is going on and see if they can help."

With the sheep operation on the farm as well as a small cropping program and the pigs Peter and Cathy are kept busy, but hard work has always been a part of their repertoire.

"It is a huge amount of work, there is no denying that, but as Cathy always says 'I don't mind hard work as long as it pays off'", Peter said.

"And being involved in the pig industry has been very rewarding.

"They are an incredibly interesting animal to work with, they are extremely smart, smarter than you think, but they seem to have this stigma surrounding them that they are dirty and smelly.

"What most people don't realise is how social they can be and how entertaining they are to watch."

Peter also commented that even though free range and outdoor bred systems are very appealing, intensive systems are also needed to supply mainstream numbers to consumers for domestic and export supply.

"We have found our ideal niche market, but realistically to do this on a large scale would be almost unachievable," he said.



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