Queensland pig industry

Overview

Pig production and other sectors of the pork supply chain contribute significantly to regional communities and the Queensland economy. In 2014-15, the estimated gross farm-gate value of pig meat production in Queensland was around $269 million, and was $1,149 million nationally.

Most of this production is utilised on the domestic market. In 2014-15, about 1.1 million head were slaughtered in Queensland producing 87,191 tonnes, and 4.9 million head were slaughtered nationally, which generated 371,164 tonnes of pig meat (source: Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Australian produced pig meat products are mostly consumed domestically, however, pig meat products are exported to 37 countries, primarily:

  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong
  • Germany
  • Papua New Guinea
  • and
  • Belgium.

National exports have slowly decreased to around 38,000 tonnes a year and imports have increased to 172,000 tonnes (source: Australian Bureau of Statistics via Australian Pork Limited). Imported pig meat, mainly from Denmark, United States of America, Netherlands and Canada is found only in cooked (ham) and bone out products such as bacon.

The pork industry's profitability varies according to the cost of feed, especially grain, and pig price is influenced by supply and demand, including imports and exports.

The industry has modernised its processing practices, and sectors of the supply chain, particularly processors and producers, have formed alliances to improve efficiencies and communication along the chain.

Pig numbers and sites of production

Queensland has around 22.4% of the national herd with 61,624 sows and approximately 280 commercial herds with sows. (As a guide, for every sow on a piggery, there are approximately 9 other pigs). Queensland has approximately 391 enterprises growing pigs, many of whom operate under supply contract arrangements.

Since about 2000, the contract growing and managing of the grower section of herds on other sites has increased as a way to expand established herds. Benefits include maintaining and improving herd health, and meeting environmental responsibilities by having fewer animals on one site.    Contract  growing  reduces capital outlay for the original herd, provides diversification for other landholders and provides an entry for less industry-experienced operators.

The industry has continued to restructure to gain efficiencies of scale. In response to difficult economic years it has reduced the number of herds from 821 in 1997 to 435 in 2009, with little change in the long-term state herd size. Approximately half of these piggeries are relatively small, and the enterprise is a sideline and may successfully supply a niche market. At the other extreme, approximately 110 units have 1000 or more pigs (equivalent to approximately 100 or more sows), which accounts for about 90% of the breeder pig population. Some are very large with more than 10,000 pigs, however the industry's strength is supported by contributions from units with 200-500 sows as a major farming enterprise.

Pig production is located close to grain growing areas. The Darling Downs has 56% of the states total pig herd while the next largest region is Wide Bay which has 30% of the state's pigs. The Fitzroy region has 9.5% of the herd.

The district also grows wheat, barley and oilseeds in small areas, and sorghum and maize in much larger areas, which provide the bulk of locally produced feed both in the district and in Central Queensland. This contributes 4% of the state's pigs. A small amount of production occurs in other areas to service local consumption.

Housing

While the Queensland climate is generally favourable for pig production, it is important to keep young pigs warm in winter and cool in summer (as well as older pigs). Effective insulation is necessary to protect against both heat and cold, as well as good ventilation.

Separate housing groups are generally provided  for  pigs of different ages because of their different nutritional and climatic requirements, and to assist in maintaining herd health levels. For maximum hygiene and to dispose of excreta, most pigs in larger piggeries are reared in buildings with partly or fully slatted floors. However, some use bedding such as straw or sorghum stubble on solid floors, especially for younger growing pigs. This is usually in lower cost plastic-roofed sheds that house large groups. Some herds have pigs in paddocks with shelters, especially adult pigs, and a few herds may be in free-range or organic production.

Feeding

Pigs need carefully formulated diets that supply the nutrient requirements for their particular stage of growth at the least cost. Feed is the major production cost, amounting to about 65% of gross costs. The major feed ingredients are wheat, barley and sorghum with oilseed meal (e.g. soybean meal, canola and cottonseed meal), and animal proteins (meat meal and fish meal) as protein sources. Approximately half of Queensland´s piggeries mix their own feed and buy ready-mixed feeds as half their feed.

Swill feeding is illegal in Australia because of the serious risk of introducing a devastating exotic disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease. Swill feeding includes using food or food scraps that contain, or have possibly had contact with, animal matter (such as from restaurants, hospitals and domestic    households)  as  feed for pigs, poultry or ruminants. If you suspect that stock are being fed swill, contact your local veterinarian, our Customer Service Centre or the toll free Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Genetics and pig breeds

The major breeds are:

  • large white (first introduced from England in the late 1800s)
  • landrace (1957 Denmark)
  • duroc (1922 United States)
  • some Hampshire (1983 US) and;
  • some crosses between those breeds.

Most commercial herds have large white and landrace crosses, and duroc may be used as a terminal sire (progeny  to  market and not for breeding). A few small herds have other breeds.

Breeding companies supply improved genes (for efficient feed use, fast lean growth and large litter size) of pure and mixed breeds through animals and semen. Using semen from breeding centres introduces genes into herds with minimal risk of disease transfer. Computer programs using data from relatives    enable  the  calculation of more accurate estimated breeding values, and the Queensland-initiated National Pig Improvement Program enables herds to compare the breeding potential of their stock with other herds.

Marketing

In 2014-15, Queensland produced 87,191 tonnes of pork from the slaughter of 1.1 million pigs. On average, a sow farrows 2.2 times a year and produces approximately 18-22 pigs to sale weight in a year. Most of this production (60-70%) is consigned to the major processors, where payment is based on dressed weight and favourable  back fat thickness. Others are sold by a similar method to local abattoirs and butchers, with only a small number sold through live auctions. Queensland has 1 major, export-accredited pig specialist abattoir, which is based at Kingaroy.

Queensland exported 7,883 tonnes in 2014-15 to 18 countries but mostly markets in:

  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong
  • the Philippines
  • Papua New Guinea
  • New Zealand and;
  • Belgium.

The Australian industry has a high-quality program for food safety and quality, which is administered by Australian Pork Limited. The program includes on-farm topics such as biosecurity and animal welfare, and vendor declarations and documents along the chain. The Queensland Government administers a tattoo branding scheme that supports the National Livestock Identification System.

Development and planning approvals

Producers are obligated to responsibly manage the total environment, as well as their animals' health and welfare.

To establish a piggery you must obtain development and planning approvals to comply with the Environmental Planning Act. An approval process is in place under the Sustainable Planning Act.

Maintaining herd health

Herds have a biosecurity policy and a health program to maintain their health status. Some piggeries are free of particular diseases, which creates the opportunity for better growth rates, fewer deaths and lower health costs. The ideal time to start a minimal-disease herd or, more accurately, a specific    pathogen-free  herd,  is when a piggery is being established or restocked.

Industry representatives

Pork Queensland Inc. is the body that represents the interests of Queensland's pig producers at a local, state and national level. John Coward is the president and may be contacted by email to jcoward@aapt.net.au.

The national industry organisation is Australian Pork Limited.