Pigs for meat (pork)

24.05.17

The pig is a hoofed animal of the genus Sus and may have been domesticated as early as 13,000-12,700BC. Pigs are produced commercially for their meat which is consumed fresh or processed into other products such as bacon and ham. Other products made from pigs include brushes made from the bristles and pet food products made from the skin, ears and other parts of the carcase.

Overview

Pork is one of the most widely consumed meats around the world and in Australia accounts for about 12% of fresh meat consumption.

Australia produces around 360,000 tonnes of pig meat a year with around 8% of this exported to other countries including Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong. While all fresh pork meat sold in Australia is also grown in Australia, around 70% of processed pork products, such as ham and bacon, are made from pork imported from overseas.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics reports that Australia’s pig industry has a farm gate value of just over one billion dollars with just over 2,700 producers deriving an income from growing pigs. Commercial production of pigs is capital- and labour-intensive requiring a range of infrastructure and husbandry skills. As with any animal production in Australia, there are legal requirements producers must comply especially regarding animal welfare.

There are a number of options for on-farm pig production. Large scale specialist pig producers manage the full cycle from breeding to selling. However, other options include contract growing (providing the sheds and labour to rear someone else’s pigs) or joining an alliance of producers and investing in a share of production. Another option if only keeping a small number of pigs is to buy weaners or stores and rear them to saleable age and weight.

The domestic and export markets for Australian pork are relatively steady. Food safety requirements for pork mean that only pigs produced in Australia can be sold as fresh meat on the domestic market, providing some security for domestic supply, although there is always pressure to allow imports. Domestic consumption of fresh pork meat is on average 207,000 tonnes per year with producers receiving just over AU$3.00 per kilogram at the farm gate.

On the export market, Australian producers compete with countries who receive subsidies of up to 79%, however the high quality of Australian produced pork meat, due to the high biosecurity standards, could be the key to maintaining and increasing export markets.

The national industry body for Australian pig farmers is Australian Pork Limited (APL) which is a producer-owned company delivering integrated marketing, innovation and policy services along the pork industry supply chain.

Facts and figures

  • Australia produces around 360,000 tonnes of pig meat per year of which around 8% is exported
  • All fresh pork meat sold in Australia is produced domestically
  • The industry reports that China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea offer the best market opportunities for increasing Australian exports
  • Piggeries are labour intensive and require land, access to roads, electricity and water
  • As with any animal production, there are a range of legal requirements related to the care and transport of pigs

Production status

Pigs are farmed commercially in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. There are around 2,700 pig producers in Australia, ranging from small-scale pig keepers through to large commercial operations. The majority of this production is under intensive indoor housing systems with about 5% of commercial breeding sows certified as Free Range and about 5% certified as Outdoor Bred.

For more detailed information on the status of pig production in Australia, visit Australian Pig Farmers.

 - image

Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Pigs are commercially produced primarily for meat. In Australia, 58% of production is consumed as fresh meat and 30% is processed into products such as bacon and ham. Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world and Australians consume around 24.2kg of pork per person a year.

Many other parts of the animal’s body and carcase are used for a range of products for human consumption and use including: offal (both red and white) especially in Asia-Pacific for human consumption; bone gelatin, blood plasma for animal feeds, bladder for musical instruments, dried ears and trotters for pet treats, and paint brushes made from pig bristles.

Production Overview

Growing regions

Pigs are commercially produced for meat in all States of Australia, except the Northern Territory.

Suitable locations for commercial pig production are mainly limited by climate and access to grain, the primary component of feed. Pigs are sensitive to extreme temperatures and the optimal growing temperature is around 20-22°C. Although intensive production in housing can provide some control over temperatures, production is best suited to regions that do not experience extreme temperatures.

Commercial piggeries are generally located on less fertile land, accessible by road, with access to electricity, quality feed and quality water. Many piggeries are located near grain growing regions as the pigs diet is primarily grain and this provides economies in sourcing feed.

Climate

Pigs are extremely sensitive to environmental extremes and ideally require a stable climate. The optimal growing temperature for pigs is 20-22°C. Pigs have no sweat glands (and therefore are unable to sweat) and use other methods of cooling down, such as covering themselves in mud.

Growing pigs in indoor housing enables farmers to have more control of the temperature and is why this is a popular form of pig production in Australia. Ideally, free range production, where pigs have access to outdoors at all times, is located in cooler regions.

Housing

Pigs are bred, raised and grown using indoor housing systems or outdoors with shelter provided.

Indoor production typically includes sheds or shelters with small or large pens. Shelters can have solid floors with no coverage (typically concrete); slatted floors with effluent channels; or solid floors with deep litter that collects effluent and is routinely removed and replaced. Large open shelters with deep litters are sometimes referred to as eco-shelters. These systems are used for pigs from birth to weaning and also for lactating and weaned sows.

Directly after giving birth and whilst still nursing a litter, a sow and her piglets are sometimes housed in farrowing crates temporarily for three to four weeks. During this time, while the new piglets need to nurse, they are at risk of being crushed to death by the sow which on average weighs between 150-260 kilograms. Farrowing crates provide the space for the sow to stand up, lie down and stretch out while the piglets are safe in a separate section (but still have access to the sow for feeding).

Deep litter systems (sometimes referred to as eco-shelters) usually consist of large open-sided sheds or hoop-like structures with deep litter flooring, usually rice hulls, straw or sawdust. These systems are used for growing pigs (age three weeks to saleable age of 19-23 weeks) and to house groups of dry (non-lactating, typically pregnant) sows.

Outdoor housing systems consist of outdoor paddocks with various huts and shade structures to provide shelter for pigs. They also include rooting areas and may include wallows. In outdoor bred systems the sows are kept outdoors at all times but grower pigs are grown and finished indoors as outlined above.

In free range systems all pigs have access to outdoor areas throughout their lives.

For more information on housing for pigs, including videos, refer to the industry website aussiepigfarmers.com.

Feed requirements

Pigs are omnivores and will eat both meat and vegetable matter, however, it is illegal in Australia to feed commercially produced pigs meat products (commonly called swill) or food that has come into contact with meat. Pigs are typically fed a diet of grain with vitamin and mineral supplements. Other food products such as dairy, juice, fish products and dry pet food may also be mixed in with the grain.

The nutritional requirements for commercially produced pigs vary depending on the age and growth stage but range from 14.5MJ per day for a weaner to 85MJ per day for a lactating sow. Pigs will grow on average at a rate of around 600-650 grams per day from birth to sale weight. For more information on the nutritional requirements of commercially produced pigs, refer to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s page on nutrient needs, and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries page A diet fit for a pig: seven basic rules.

Ready-mixed feed can be purchased from stockfeed millers or grain can be milled on the farm from home-grown or purchased grain and protein-rich meals. The decision to purchase ready-mix or to mix food on-farm is largely based on the cost of mixed feed but also involves personal inclination, availability of capital, labour, machinery and feed ingredients, and the knowledge to formulate diets (or availability of a nutritionist). Ready-mixed feeds are a good option while the piggery is still establishing as it does not require investment in special machinery or specific skills and nutritional knowledge. As a guide it takes about four tonnes of feed to produce one tonne of meat.

Pigs require access to drinking water at all times.

For more information on feeding, visit the Australian Pork Limited website for factsheets.

Breeds and breeding

There are a number of breeds used for commercial production in Australia. These are divided into white and coloured breeds. White breeds include: Large White (or Yorkshire) and Landrace. Coloured breeds include: Large Black, Berkshire, Duroc and Hampshire. A few characteristics of these breeds are provided below.

Large White (also known as Yorkshire) – white skin, large-framed, late-maturing type and have a long middle and light shoulders.

Landrace – white skin, lop-eared pig with a long middle, light forequarters, and excellent ham development.

Large Black – black skin and hair, large lop ears, slower growing pig suited to outdoor systems but can also be grown indoors.

Berkshire – black hair pig with marbled meat suited to restaurant trade or farmers markets.

Duroc – reddish skin, large-framed, late-maturing type, excellent for heavy-carcase production.

Hampshire – black skin and hair with a white band of skin around the middle, covering the front legs, quick growing with good carcase development.

When discussing pigs and breeding, different terminology is used for breeding and different stages of growth:

Sow: a breeding female that has given birth to a litter of piglets.

Gilt: a female pig that has been selected to become part of the breeding herd. The term Gilt is dropped once the female pig has had her first litter.

Boar: male pig aged over six months and used in the breeding herd.

Farrowing: birth of piglets; after day 110-120 of pregnancy.

Piglet: baby pig.

Store: pig that has not been weaned &/or a pig under 40Kg.

Weaner: piglet recently weaned from its mother at around three to four weeks of age.

Grower pig: pigs between weaner and finisher phases.

Porker: market pigs which weigh between 24-55kg liveweight.

Baconer/Finisher: market pigs which weigh more than 55kg liveweight.

Most specialist pig producers keep a breeding herd and rear the progeny to porker and/or baconer weight. An alternative to owning and caring for breeders through to baconers is to contract grow (providing the sheds and labour to rear someone else’s pigs) or to be part of a group (alliance) of producers employing a manager to breed pigs where you (or someone you contract) rear your share of the growers from weaner age. Another option if only keeping a small number of pigs is to buy weaners or stores and rear them for sale as porkers or baconers.

Breeding is done on-farm through natural mating and artificial insemination. The gestation period in pigs is an average of 114 days and will produce on average 10-12 piglets per litter. Piglets are generally weaned at around 3-4 weeks and the sow can begin the mating cycle again several days after weaning.

Artificial insemination has become popular as a way of improving herd genetics. There are a number of artificial insemination centres in Australia that provide chilled and frozen boar semen. Administering artificial insemination requires the appropriate skills and knowledge for success.

For more information on breeding, refer to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s page on improving your herd with genetics, and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries page on pig breeds and breeding. For more information on artificial insemination in pigs refer to the Australian Pork Limited fact sheet Artificial Insemination.

Sourcing stock

Stock can be sourced from genetics suppliers, saleyards, and directly from other farmers.

When sourcing stock it is important to try to purchase from a limited number of suppliers as sourcing stock from several suppliers can increase the risk of disease being introduced into the herd.

When establishing a piggery it is important to start with a herd that has minimal disease, high health and are specific-pathogen free. This will optimise the production to ensure better growth rates, fewer deaths and lower health care costs.

The number of stock purchased and the numbers of male and female animals will depend on whether the intention is to simply grow the animals to market weight or to start a breeding herd. It is advisable to ensure the herd from which the animals are sourced has a sound genetic improvement program and boars intended as breeding stock are performance tested.

Health care & pests and diseases

Australia has strong animal welfare regulations designed to care for and protect the welfare of farmed animals. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs provides guidelines for caring specifically for pigs under commercial production and includes recommendations for stall size, training of staff handling the animals and general health care. This code also recommends that farmers join the industry quality assurance management program – Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQP®). This program is designed to enable producers to demonstrate that their on-farm practices reflect Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for management, food safety, animal welfare, biosecurity and traceability.

For general health care management, farms have health programs that are put together through extensive consultation with a vet. The programs incorporate routine vaccination programs and antibiotic treatments for sick animals and include recording systems for these treatments. The use of chemicals and vaccines is regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) and all chemicals and vaccines must be registered with the Authority for use in pigs. Some chemicals and vaccines will have withholding periods required for export certification.

Day-to-day monitoring and care of commercial pigs requires visual inspection, feeding, watering and attending to any health issues. Careful attention is also given to managing heat stress, and for pigs kept outdoors need to be monitored for sunburn as well.

The main diseases affecting pigs in Australia are leptospirosis, erysipelas, porcine parvovirus, E.coli scours, mycoplasma pneumonia (also known as enzootic pneumonia), actinobacillosis pleuropneumonia (APP), Glässer’s disease (Haemophilus parasuis), and ileitis (Lawsonia intracellularis). These diseases are managed primarily through vaccination.

The vaccination program for a herd will depend on the endemic illnesses of the herd and the pattern of infection. As a guide, vaccinations can start at the age of two to three weeks with the last vaccination given up to 12-15 weeks of age. Gilts are vaccinated at selection, again 4-6 weeks later and 3-4 weeks before farrowing to allow immunity to be passed to the piglets in colostrums from the sow’s milk. Boars are vaccinated every six months against erysipelas and leptospirosis.

For more detailed information on health care, pests and diseases, refer to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s page on Pig health and diseases, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries page on Pig health and welfar and Australian Pork Limited’s website for factsheets.

Infrastructure Requirements

Basic infrastructure requirements for commercial pig production include land, shelter, road access, electricity and water. Other machinery and building requirements will depend on what type of housing and feeding systems are used.

Indoor housing systems (including deep litter housing systems) require large open-air sheds, with stalls for husbandry and care, such as vaccinations and ‘hospital’ care, and farrowing stalls. Land is required for effluent capture and waste disposal. If using a free range system, housing requires paddocks with rooting areas, wallows and shelter huts.

Other equipment will be required for feeding and husbandry (vaccination and health care) and can include machinery for mixing, storing and distributing feed.

A reliable water source is essential for livestock to drink and for cleaning of housing and equipment. As a guide, a minimum of 75 litres of water per day per sow will be required for production, but this can vary depending on weather, type of housing and effluent management system used. Water storage and reticulation systems are crucial to production. It is important to note that some sub-artesian water may be unsuitable for pigs due to high levels of minerals. If considering this source for water, analysis should be undertaken to determine the water’s suitability.

Fencing may also be required to keep out feral pests and to maintain biosecurity.

For further information on getting started in commercial pig production, refer to the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s website page on Establishing a piggery.

Processing & Selling

Pigs can be sold direct to processors, butchers, retailers, local markets or through local saleyards. Pigs can be sold on a live weight basis over scales, dressed weight basis or per head basis. Some producers have contracts with their specific customers while others work on the market price on the day of sale. The most common option for selling pigs is on consignment to a processing facility. Producers may also contract with other buyers to supply pigs on a regular basis.

Pigs are grown to four primary sizes for marketing and sale:

  • baconers (50-105kg dressed weight)
  • porkers (30-50kg dressed weight)
  • stores (25-40kg liveweight)
  • weaners (15-25kg liveweight)

The majority of pigs are sold at baconer weight for processing into cured products or to be sold as fresh pork. Porker-weight pigs are used for fresh meat, while stores and weaners are sold for growing out or for special consumer markets.

If selling to a processor or at auction, then there are no further processing considerations. However, if considering direct marketing a branded product, value-adding or selling to a niche market, then slaughtering and marketing may also need to be managed. As it is illegal to sell fresh meat to the public unless it has been processed at a licenced facility, a suitable abbatoir will need to be identified and the food handling chain will need to comply with the relevant laws and regulations. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand are the national government agency responsible for food safety and labelling.

Pigs are sold for both domestic consumption and for export. All fresh pork meat sold in Australia is also produced in Australia. For more information on markets, refer to the Markets & Marketing section.

Markets & Marketing

There are a number of options for selling pigs for meat: sell direct to a processor (with or without a contract); sell to local butchers; retailers, local markets, through local saleyards or grow free range/organic pigs and market a branded product to a niche market. Both growing and marketing can be undertaken independently, as a group of producers or in alliance with another sector such as a processor.

All fresh pork meat sold in Australia is produced domestically and so this provides some stability for domestic sales. Fresh pork meat is generally marketed by processors but producers may also choose to build a brand and manage marketing directly. This requires a great deal of additional work and skills in marketing and sales.

Australia exports around 8% of the average 360,000 tonnes of pig meat produced each year. Australian pork is exported to a number of countries including Singapore, New Zealand, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. Exporting of pig meat is generally done by processors and so farmers sell to processors who sell into the export market, but some producers are also processors and so access these markets directly.

The Australian Pork industry has identified four Asian markets as offering the best potential to increase pork exports: China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The pork industry supports free trade as pig producers operate without the benefit of subsidies or tariff barriers. On the export market, Australian producers compete with countries (Brazil, USA, Canada & Denmark) who receive subsidies of up to 79%.

However, the high quality of Australian produced pork meat, due to the high biosecurity standards, could be the key to maintaining and increasing export markets. The large and rapidly growing middle class in Asia demand high quality pork with guaranteed health and hygiene status and the Australian pork industry is considered well positioned to meet this demand.

For more information on marketing refer to Australian Pork Limited’s fact sheet Pork and Exports.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

For commercial production, maintaining herd health is vital to success and expert veterinarians and industry consultants will be required to provide support on health issues and plans. The number of pigs born and reared for sale per sow per year has a significant influence on commercial viability. Fertility and reproductive difficulties need to be carefully monitored and managed, especially in hotter months when infertility can be a problem.

The main input cost to pig production is grain and feed, accounting for about 60% of all costs in a commercial farm. Feed is grown in many areas of Australia but feed costs can vary greatly depending on domestic and international seasons, supply and demand.

Markets can be difficult to access, particularly for smaller producers, as larger processors look for consistency and continuity of product and supply. Many smaller producers lean toward a diminishing number of saleyards and direct sales to butchers. While all fresh pork sold in Australia is produced locally, pork consumption is growing and pressure continues to be applied to allow the importing of fresh pork which would severely devalue local product if it was to be approved.

Regulatory considerations

The standard regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport, apply to commercial pig operations.

For commercial production of animals there are a range of requirements in relation to various regulatory issues including state animal welfare acts and regulations, on-farm animal welfare standards and guidelines, requirements in feedlots and for animal transportation. These regulations apply both domestically and for live export of animals.

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs provides guidelines for caring for pigs under production and includes recommendations for stall size, training of staff handling the animals and general health care.

This code also recommends that farmers join the industry quality assurance management program – Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ). This program is designed to enable producers to demonstrate that their on-farm practices reflect Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), for Management, Food Safety, Animal Welfare, Biosecurity and Traceability.

The pork industry also has National Environmental Guidelines for Piggeries which provides a general framework for managing environmental issues associated with piggeries and a benchmark for assessing their environmental sustainability. These guidelines are designed to facilitate management of environmental risks and to reduce the environmental footprint of pig production in a consistent regulatory approach throughout Australia.

When transporting pigs off-property, a PigPass National Vendor Declaration will be required. Registering a PigPass requires a PIC number, pig ear tattoo number and an ABN. This includes movements to another property where there is a change in Property Identification Code (PIC).

A PIC is obtained from the relevant State department of primary industries. Most abattoirs and meat processors will not accept pigs without a valid PigPass NVD form. Registering of a PigPass NVD requires a producer to have a PIC number, pig tattoo or brand and a ABN. For more specific information on these requirements, refer to www.pigpass.com.au.

Publications

Publications/information

Australian Pork Limited – fact sheets

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs

National Environmental Guidelines for Piggeries

APIQP® Implementation Manual (For Large Holders)

APIQP® Standards Manual

Other resources

Aussie Pig Farmers – This website provides information about pig farming in Australia

PigPass National Vendor Declaration

Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry – pig production

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries – Pigs

Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food – Pigs

Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program

Image Gallery

 - image

Eco-Shelter Housing (source Australian Pork Limited)

 - image

Sow with piglets

 - image

Grower pig feeding (source Australian Pork Limited)

 - image

Pigs raised in free range environment (source Australian Pork Limited)

 - image

Administering vaccinations (source Australian Pork Limited)