Passionate about breeding quality pigs

Shark Lake Piggery owner is passionate about pig industry

News
While most breeders wean their piglets at 21 to 24 days old, Mr Hoffrichter waits until his animals reach 32 days of age and 12 kilograms in weight.

While most breeders wean their piglets at 21 to 24 days old, Mr Hoffrichter waits until his animals reach 32 days of age and 12 kilograms in weight.

Aa

Shark Lake Piggery owner is passionate about pig industry

Aa

A LONG, lean pig with less fat, more ribs, more milk and higher resistance to disease: those are the traits Stephen Hoffrichter, from Shark Lake Piggery in Esperance, chases when producing the perfect pig.

"The average pig has about 14 ribs, whereas we breed animals with 17 to 19 ribs," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"Also, most pigs have only 12 to 14 nipples, but ours have up to 20 - it all comes down to genetics."

Hailing from Ceduna in South Australia, Mr Hoffrichter inherited his lifelong passion for pork from his parents Peter and Judith.

The Hoffrichters moved to Esperance in 1978, building an 80-sow piggery with borrowed money, after prolonged drought made their sheep station at Shark Bay, SA, unviable.

Today, Mr Hoffrichter oversees 600 sows, in a double-storey piggery, on 566 hectares and sends up to 300 pigs to Linley Valley Pork each week.

He also runs 250 Angus cattle, a couple hundred Dorper sheep and crops about 250 hectares of canola.

"We lost everything we had and built our way up from nothing," he said.

 Esperance pig farmer Stephen Hoffrichter, Shark Lake Piggery has a lifelong passion for the pork industry.

Esperance pig farmer Stephen Hoffrichter, Shark Lake Piggery has a lifelong passion for the pork industry.

Shark Lake Piggery also prides itself on being crowned the winner of the 'Best Pork Chop' in Australia at the 2017 Steak Your Claim competition.

And when it comes to running a successful pig farm and growing the best tasting pork, Mr Hoffrichter said genetics, feed, labour and climate were most important.

He found Esperance's climate to be ideal for growing pigs, which is particularly important for fertility.

"Further into the Wheatbelt - where it gets warmer for long periods of time - producers could face problems with summer infertility," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"That means they might not be able to get as many pigs in their shed because the sows don't farrow back in April to May.

"We are lucky because we get a cool change every afternoon at about 2pm and while we do get a little bit of heat, it is not for long periods of time.

"And we also don't get extreme cold."

In 2005, Shark Lake Piggery heavily destocked and purchased a load of "the cleanest pigs" they could find from Kingaroy, Queensland.

And they haven't needed to buy another pig in since.

Instead the piggery uses genetics from Jeff Braun, Myora Farm near Mount Gambier in South Australia, to artificially inseminate its sows.

About 750ml of semen is milked from the boar and split up between 30 straws.

Shark Lake Piggery mates 60 sows from a batch and two to three Myora Farm boars are used in the program, which means all the piglets remain similar.

What appealed to Mr Hoffrichter most about Myora Farm was that it focused on breeding a "longer pig with a longer middle".

That means more meat and more money.

Shark Lake Piggery's sows are anywhere up to two metres long and 40cm wide, compared to the average 1.8m long and 40cm wide.

"We have the extra length and get about $3 per kilogram for the shoulders, $4 for the hams and $8 for the middle," he said.

"The only problem is Australia's pork industry is yet to implement a 3D scanner, which would help producers be paid for what their animal dresses out at.

When it comes to running a successful pig farm and growing the best tasting pork, Mr Hoffrichter said genetics, feed, labour and climate were most important.

When it comes to running a successful pig farm and growing the best tasting pork, Mr Hoffrichter said genetics, feed, labour and climate were most important.

"At the moment we only get paid for the back fat measurement on the back rib, so we are all paid the same.

"It doesn't matter what your genetics are or how your pig yields - you still get the same money per kilogram."

Genetics teamed with efficiency help Shark Lake Piggery produce up to 2.3 litters - or 26.5 piglets - per sow, per year.

The sows are either of Landrace or Large White breeds and the terminal sires are a reddish-brown Duroc domestic breed pig.

"It is a bit like breeding a Friesian-Angus cow, you put a terminal sire over it, so you get that three-way cross," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"Your white pigs are bred for the female genetic line productivity and your terminal sire is bred for meat - you cross them both together."

When it comes to pig farming in Esperance, Mr Hoffrichter has found some disadvantages in the cost of power and freight.

But these could be outweighed by having access to quality, affordable grain for feed - straight out of the paddock - which helps to fatten up his piglets.

"Pig farmers closer to the city have to get their grain carted in, whereas I source mine locally," he said.

"I believe in feeding top quality grain to my animals to get top quality milk and kilograms per sow."

Feed combined with a later weaning is a system that works for Shark Lake Piggery.

Mr Hoffrichter oversees 600 sows in a double-storey piggery on 566 hectares and sends up to 300 pigs to Linley Valley Pork each week.

Mr Hoffrichter oversees 600 sows in a double-storey piggery on 566 hectares and sends up to 300 pigs to Linley Valley Pork each week.

While most breeders wean their piglets at 21 to 24-days-old, Mr Hoffrichter waits until his animals reach 32 days and 12 kilograms in weight.

This is to fatten them up with an extra six to eight kilograms gained in 10 days.

By the time the pigs are 18-weeks-old, they are up to 110kg liveweight and are ready for processing.

"I am weaning my pigs later so they can grow, that's why I can sell them at 16 to17 weeks," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"We do things a bit differently compared to everyone else.

"It is all about litter weight with weaning.

"Some of our sows are milking just as much as the best Friesian cows in Australia.

"But you have to have a sow that can keep the body condition up, eat the feed, produce the milk and handle the number of piglets sucking on their udders."

Weaning occurs every fortnight and within a few days the sow is back on heat and ready to be artificially inseminated again.

Sows stay in the breeding shed for six weeks while pregnant before moving.

They are pregnant for four months and cycle every three weeks.

"If she misses out, she's out," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"Some sows are up to their 10th litter, usually they have about five to six litters before they start breaking down."

When the sow gives birth, newborns have access to free flowing milk for 24 hours.

After that milk is only available from the udder for three seconds, every hour.

When pigs are four-and-a-half weeks old they spend five weeks in an on-property, free-range weaning shed.

Mr Hoffrichter runs about 150 piglets per pen in the eco-sheltered areas.

At 10 weeks, they are moved back into the conventional pig shed.

"Everything I feed is the best I can find - feeding my animals is similar to growing a crop,'' he said.

"And I can see the results in what I do."

After the local abattoir closed four years ago, Mr Hoffrichter was forced to purchase his meat meal from Harvey at $1000/t.

This coming harvest, he is looking at putting his pigs on a vegetarian diet, substituting the meat meal for canola meal and faba beans.

He said it was mainly Australian and New Zealand pig farmers, who fed their animals meat meal and the remaining two-thirds of the globe opted for the vegetarian-based diet.

"You just have to make up the protein, meat meal has 50 per cent protein, so you have to replace it with something else," he said.

Mr Hoffrichter added that he was producing strong conversions and had huge results out of his home mix grain feed, which was why he preferred it.

He said in the last fortnight before the pigs were sent to market, they grew about 3kg per day, equating to about 20kg a week.

About 13t of prepared feed is used for the drove of pigs per day, which is on average 4000t per year or - at 600 sows - 7t per sow.

As for water, 30,000 gallons (136,382 litres) is used each day for the pigs and is sourced from onfarm dams.

Like many farmers, Mr Hoffrichter has faced some tougher times during his life on the land.

The most challenging of all was the pork industry crisis in 2018, off the back of a massive oversupply in pigs.

At the time, Mr Hoffrichter couldn't find a market for his pigs or get a price that covered production costs.

His business was running at a loss of about $10,000 a week as their buyer cut supply from non-contracted suppliers by about 10 per cent.

"When you start pig farming, you can't just get them out of your system, which can actually be pretty distressing," Mr Hoffrichter said.

"We were losing $80 per pig that went out on the loading ramp and we had to sell half of our cows to bring money back in the bank.

"We rely on pigs for 90pc of our income, so most of the guys had to go and borrow to the limit to keep on surviving.

"Half of them got out and half of them survived, but you'd have grown men in tears because there was nowhere to sell their pigs."

Mr Hoffrichter said pig farming was different to that of sheep and cows in that they couldn't be sold or sent to agistment.

"Pigs have to wait 10 months from the time they are pregnant to the time they are sold," he said.

"It is a 10-month cycle and you can't just kill them.

"They have to be a certain size and your sows are pregnant for four months, so you can't just offload them to anyone.

"If you are in it, you are in it."

Mr Hoffrichter said it was particularly heartbreaking as Australia was importing pig meat from overseas, as opposed to supporting what was in its own backyard.

And it had been that way for many years.

"I remember I was at a free trade event in Northam when I was 18-years-old," he said.

"I stood up and said, 'If you let pig meat into Australia, you have to let the whole carcase in because it isn't fair if you just let in the best cut'.

"Only the best cuts of pork are let in from overseas, so it has never been a level playing field.

"And they are only allowed to let in frozen meat because of diseases."

With free trade agreements on the cards with England, Mr Hoffrichter fears that it could only be a matter of time before fresh pork is imported.

He said once that was the case Australian pork producers would be "finished" because it could be produced a dollar cheaper in overseas markets.

"A little guy like me would be finished overnight,'' he said.

"That's where the red meat industry in Australia has a huge playing field because they are a massive export earner."

While COVID-19 wreaked havoc across many export markets and industries, the pig industry was particularly affected by the lack of air freight.

With no flights from Adelaide to Perth, the Hoffrichters worked six months of weekends, as they were weaning on a Saturday - as opposed to a Friday - for a Wednesday mating.

There were also only limited flights from Perth to Singapore, which meant Western Australia's pork industry was only exporting 800 pigs compared to the usual 3000 per week.

That means an extra 2000 pigs a week have been put on the domestic market in Western Australia.

Mr Hoffrichter said the biggest hurdle WA's pork industry faced in the future was that there was only one abattoir.

He said as Westpork was putting on another 2000 to 3000 sows (or 6000 per year), processors would be pushed to capacity.

"Where are we going to kill them?" he said.

"We are battling to kill what we have already because we are short of room."

Despite the challenges, Mr Hoffrichter's passion for the industry has gone from strength to strength.

So what does he think the best part about pig farming is?

"Watching my line of pigs go on the truck every week is the best part," he said.

"They are getting better and better in quality.

"I enjoy checking out the babies in the litters - it makes me proud."

Mr Hoffrichter said recently they had an average 13.8 piglets on 60 sows at 10-days-old.

"An average of 14 baby pigs per sow is huge, particularly when the Australian average is only 10 pigs weaned per litter," he said.

And what was Mr Hoffrichter's parting message?

Well, we should support Australian pig farmers and buy more pork chops, of course.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by