FOR Koos de Jonge establishing a free-range piggery was a good way to get into farming in Australia without taking on too much risk.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Koos and his family lease 40 hectares of land on a farm in the Cranbrook shire and run an 800-sow piggery.
They have been on the property for five years and want to eventually buying their own property.
But for now, leasing is a good option as it enables them to run their own business without a large upfront investment.
The de Jonge’s breed the pigs on contract to Milne Agrigroup.
“The good thing about the contract breeding system is that you have a regular income coming in,” Koos said.
“It is not like cropping or running sheep or cattle where you might only get a couple of cheques a year.
“There is less risk and you are not relying on the weather.
“The one thing you must have though is a very good water supply.”
That is what drew them to the property they are on now, the ideal water.
“There are two bores here that produce good volumes of water.
“One of them has been in for 30 years and is still producing good quality water,” Koos said.
“Water is a big input into this operation.
“During summer we would use 40-50m3 per day.”
When it came to shire approval, Koos said the process was very smooth.
“Cranbrook Shire was more than happy with what we wanted to do here,” he said.
“We run less than 10 pigs to the acre, so we were classed as extensive agriculture, which made the process that much easier.”
Once he had secured the land and water supply and received the go ahead from the shire, the rest was relatively easy for Koos as the system he uses is one he is well accustomed to.
“My family have always run pigs in the UK and our system here is based on the one we used there,” he said.
“Basically all we need to supply is the land, the labour, the equipment and the straw for bedding.
“Milne supplies the pigs, the feed and veterinary products.”
While Koos and his family were lucky enough to be able to move into a house on the property they lease, they purchased a house in Cranbrook for their full time Filipino worker.
“Running this many sows is intensive in terms of labour and so two full-time workers are required,” Koos said.
“We find the Filipinos very good as they have experience working with pigs and this experience is hard to find in Australia these days.”
The 800 active sows and 56 boars run in the operation produce about 15,000 pigs a year.
“We receive 35 replacement sows a month and we also AI the sows after they have had their first litter using the boars as a back-up,” Koos said.
“We wean the pigs at four weeks old and we will wean four paddocks a week every Thursday.
“The following Tuesday the sows are back on heat again and we AI them and 114 days later they are having piglets and the cycle repeats.
“Usually the sows will have six to seven litters before being taken out of production.”
Koos said he saw good opportunities for pork.
“There is always a bit of cycle with pork prices,” he said.
“People get in and the price goes down, people get out and the price goes up.
“The free range market is a little different.
“It is a niche market and more and more consumers are demanding free range produce.”
Koos said the Great Southern region was well suited to running free-range piggeries.
“There are not too many places in Australia where you can do this,” he said.
“It was tried in Victoria but the soils there are too heavy, it was fine in summer but just way too much mud in winter months.
“These are good free draining soils here, which are ideal.
“The climate is also right, if you tried to do it further north it gets too hot and that really impacts on your production.”