Aiming for Profitability in Pig Production

Farmer’s Review 1 September 2018

A strict selection strategy, in which only about 30% to 35% of the piglets are retained for breeding, has earned Neil Dry, owner of the Niemen Pig Stud near Magaliesburg in North West, South Africa, a reputation for superior genetics. He explains to Farmers review why, in order to be profitable, farmers should always strive to provide their customers with top-quality genetics

Neil established the Niemen Stud in 1997 with six white sows and one Landrace boar. The operation has since grown into one of the largest award winning piggeries in South Africa.

Neil notes that in order to start a commercial farming production, one has to do thorough research and learn the cons and pros of that industry.

How many piglets should you get per sow

The bottom line of any piggery is not how many pigs you sell per farm but how many kilos you sell. The more kilos you sell per farm, the more profit. Mind you, you are not getting paid per pig but you are getting paid per kilogram. Always keep that in mind.

However still, the number of piglets reared per sow per year is seen as one of the greatest effects on profitability. You must always be looking for ways to upgrade the genetic make-up of your breeding sows in order to improve the production characteristics of her offspring. the sow must have the ability to rear large, healthy litters. Always opt to use AI as it is cheaper and efficient as compared to the conventional method.

What is the most profitable pig to sell? 

The heavier, the better.But there is a cut-off point, as soon as the carcass is 100kg then there is devaluation; P7,30 ( R10)  per kilo, but if carcass weight is kept between 85kg and 95 kg then it’s safe. Also keep in mind, in Africa it’s not like in Europe. In Africa, consumers like to braai (cut chops) while in Europe they cut the whole pig in schnitzels so that way in doesn’t matter how big the pig is because when they do they can use it for any purpose they want. So Africa it’s different because you’d want to have a piece of bone with a piece of meat in it.

Which factors also contribute in piggery?

Selection based on production performance is important. Growth rate and fat composition are some of the key criteria while selecting. Know the mating period, know the right time to wean, and also have a feeding program that is suitable not to produce overweight pigs. Your pigs should be in good condition but not fat.

Feed also is not only a concern when it is in excess, imbalanced diet leads to poor growth.  Before starting piggery, make sure you can afford to vaccinate and feed them until they are market-ready. Always keep in mind that compliance to market is even more important.


Pigs are said to be strong animals if managed properly. Therefore poor housing, insufficient feed and water and severe weather will decrease productivity in a piggery. Your infrastructure will depend  on the number of animals or plan to have.

Having said that, the best solution or strategy is to a facility that can be expanded as your operation grows. if fact, funds permitting, if your plan is to eventually reach a maximum of 3000 pigs, then you should build a facility that can take 3000 right away. This way as your operation grows, you don’t have to worry about the construction of facilities.

Diseases on piggeries are mostly caused by poor management, mostly diarrhea, particularly in intensive farming systems where pigs can be  “crowded”. One thing that farmers take for granted is biosecurity. You just can’t let people to enter your breeding facilities at their pleasure, without any records or the correct attire. Therefore it goes without saying that farmers must put a strict biosecurity management strategy in place.

Market Outlook

At the moment, in Africa consumption of pork 4kg per person per year while in Europe it ranges from 68-75kg per person per year and that says we are still behind as far  as piggery is concerned. However there is definitely a change in trends as more people now consume pork than before. It is all up to enterprises to take advantage of current market transformation and start processing pork.


If one wants to start piggery it’s important that they make up their minds. You need to tell yourself I want to do this, and I will stay in there. You cannot start and along the way opt out because you feel that it’s too expensive or too much work.  Always bear in mind that, while pigs can yield good returns on investment, because of their breeding rate and feed conversion ratios, they are really sensitive animals that require top notch management.

How to survive economically in pork production

By Annelie Coleman (Farmer’s Weekly, May 14, 2013)

Neil Dry focuses on exceptional genetics in the management of his piggery in North West.

Neil Dry, proprietor of the Niemen Stud, provides top genetics to the commercial pork producer. Photo: Annelie Coleman

Neil Dry, owner of the Niemen Pig Stud near Magaliesburg in North West, says optimal production is vital for economic survival in pork production.

“Farmers, being price-takers, not price-makers, must plan accordingly. Maximum production at the lowest possible input cost is the key to cost-effective pork production.”

Neil says profitabily also depends on quality and volume. He therefore strives to supply commercial pork producers with the best possible breeding material. Towards this end, he keeps to a strict selection strategy based on performance testing, which sees him retaining only about 30% to 35% of the pigs for breeding. Culls are marketed for slaughter.

Three breeds

The Niemen Stud herd contains the Duroc, Large White and SA Landrace breeds. For the commercial market, Neil breeds F1 sows from two of these breeds. The F1 sow is then crossed with pure-bred boars from the third breed.

“I cross Landrace and Large White to produce F1 sows for commercial piggeries, and advise my clients to cross the F1 sows with a Duroc boar,” he explains.

“The heterosis achieved by cross-breeding improves pork production, but hybrid vigour can be diluted by continuously re-breeding with cross-bred animals.

“I source genetics locally and internationally. However, imported semen does not automatically indicate good genetics. It still has to be carefully evaluated.”

He stresses that each breed contributes specific characteristics to the pigs bred for commercial pork production.

The Duroc is a large-framed red breed of medium length, very muscular with good temperament, known for its exceptional carcass quality, above-average feed conversion and daily gains. The large-framed Large White also features top carcass quality as well as good growth, excellent feed conversion, fertility and good milk production. This hardy breed can withstand a wide range of climatic conditions.

The Landrace is known for good maternal ability, fertility and milk production. It is an early maturing, fast-growing breed with exceptionally high weaner weights.

“The ultimate slaughter pig bred from the F1 sow will show the characteristics of all three breeds,” Neil explains.

“The progeny of a maternal line consisting of three or four breeds coupled with a parental line from a number of other breeds will show tremendous variation.”

The Niemen breeding strategy ensures a slaughter pig with 50% Duroc, 25% Large White and 25% Landrace genetics.

Top genetics not negotiable

A stud breeder has a responsibility to provide the best possible genetics to the commercial market, says Neil. To ensure this, he and several other breeders have formed a company called Alliance Genetics South Africa. This company will collaborate with Alliance Genetics Canada (the largest pure-bred pig genetic nucleus in Canada), and other international partners, to provide quality genetics to the pork industry in southern Africa.

“The genetic variation in our shareholders’ herds has been combined in a gene pool of 2 155 breeding animals; 1 600 Large White, 335 Landrace and 220 Duroc sows. Our AI station will initially accommodate 100 boars.”

Neil explains that their connection to Alliance Genetics Canada has given the company access to a gene pool of 8 500 sows and 600 boars.  Alliance Genetics South Africa plans to be fully operational by the end of 2013 with an AI station situated near Polokwane.


Performance testing, critical to the stud, makes for top quality breeding stock.

“It is the only way for stud breeders to determine whether the animals comply with selection criteria. We can’t work on assumptions,” says Neil. “To measure is to know, especially in pig farming. It is highly unlikely that more than 50% of a litter of piglets will comply with a stud’s breeding criteria, although visually they may do so. Successful selection depends on performance testing data. BLUP is an invaluable tool in our industry.”

The Niemen stud’s Phase D data is managed by SA Studbook, an organisation Neil hails as a world leader in animal improvement. Data processed by SA Studbook is expressed as BLUP values.

On a cautionary note, Neil says that selection criteria should still be sufficiently flexible to meet market demands. For example, if the market wants fatter baconers, a breeder should concentrate on increasing back fat deposit. If more pigs are called for, the NBA (numbers born alive) BLUP value becomes more important.

Neil feels that genomics will play an important role in the future, but says the exorbitant cost of genotyping is currently a prohibitive factor.

“Genotyping is the process of determining differences in the genetic make-up (genotype) of an animal. Genotyping can identify a specific genome in an animal early on, enabling appropriate selection for criteria such as milk production, carcass quality and fertility.”

Good outlook

Neil is positive about the future of  pork production in South Africa where the current annual per capita consumption of pork is about 3,5kg compared to the European annual per capita pork consumption of between 75kg to 80kg.

“South Africa imports 34 000t of pork (65% ribs) annually. Subsidised pork imports, mainly from Germany, Canada, Spain and France, harm the local industry and make it increasingly difficult for farmers to compete.”

The considerable investment needed to start a piggery, coupled with high production costs, makes it difficult for prospective pork producers to enter the industry, says Neil.

“On a positive note, pork is no longer perceived as fatty, unhealthy meat and consumers increasingly realise the nutritional value of lean pork products.”

This article was originally published in the 01 February 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.