In the 1960s there were over 50,000 pig farmers in Australia. Now there are fewer than 1,000. What happened to all these farms?
The average herd size used to be fewer than 20 sows. This made it easy for the pigs to be given enough space to move about. Essentially all the pigs were what we would class as free range.
Nowadays the average herd size is 170 sows and up to 97% of all Australian pork comes from factory farms.
Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork Limited says that modern pig farmers needed to “get big or get specialised to survive.”
Pig farming and dairy farming used to be under the same roof. A lot of the waste products from dairy farming, such as whey, could go to feeding pigs. Since then whey has been found to have other, more profitable uses, and so the practice of raising pigs alongside cows slowly disappeared.
Feeding pigs also became more expensive with the banning of swill. Any food waste that could have come into contact with meat is illegal to feed to pigs. Meat and mammalian material can contain viruses such as Foot and Mouth Disease or African Swine Fever. It is believed that an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001 was caused by feeding swill to pigs.
Another problem for farmers is the enormous costs involved in starting and running a pig farm. According to Mr Spencer, it costs about $6000 per sow to start a piggery, not including the costs of council approvals, meeting environmental laws, and labour.
Competition with imports also presents a challenge. A whopping 70 percent of the ham and bacon eaten in Australia is imported. This is due to a number of factors such as agricultural subsides in other countries, trading laws, as well as Australians’ insatiable hunger for pork.
The average Australian consumes about 25 kg of pork products every year and demand is steadily growing at a rate of 182 grams per person, per year.
Look for my article on feral pig consumption if you want to see a possible solution to these problems.