To the Howard family of Wannamal, pigs are more than livestock, they are a way of life. Three generations live on the farm, working 365 days of the year, running a “grow out unit”, which is essentially a feed lot for pigs.
They are one of many locals who are contract growers to Westpork, one of Australia’s largest pork producers, based at Gingin. Under the contract, Westpork supply the piglets, the feed and the Howards provide the management and infrastructure.
Wannamal is one of the biggest pig areas in the state. Selected because of access to water, proximity to market and feed mills, a good sea breeze and affordable land. Brenden, the oldest son of Annette & Errol Howard, now runs the “grow-out unit” with eager assistance from his toddler son, Emmett, who spends most weekends with his dad learning the ropes from a young age. Brenden says he always wanted to farm. Lucky for dad Errol, who built the business from scratch.
Brenden shares, “Dad tries to avoid the piggery like the plague, he prefers sheep and cattle and during harvest he’ll be on a truck”.
Errol & Annette, are understandably proud of what they have created, having invested years of hard labor. Errol was bought up in Corrigin on a sheep, wheat and cattle property. The Wannamal sandy country wouldn’t support such farming so Errol started a 15 sow piggery. Annette recalls, “It was very small, everything was second hand, as cheap as we could do.”
Annette shares, “We did it all ourselves, I’d get up at 5am, help load the pigs, I’d come home and get the kids ready for school, load them on the school bus, Errol would take the pigs to Perth and I’d be in the piggery for the day.”
Today life as a “grow out unit” is about precision turnaround and adhering to strict bio security guidelines. What you’ll also find at the Howard’s is a healthy dose of family love and an obvious respect and care of the pigs. It is quite amazing to watch young Emmett walk among the piglets, seemingly oblivious to the flies and the aroma.”
750 piglets arrive every fortnight at the premises at 4 weeks and go out at 22 weeks old. They are 8 kilos on arrival and leave at 110. The workload is constant, as Brenden describes it as, “same thing, different day”.
Keeping a piggery clean and hygienic is critical; once a day irrigation timers flush the pen drains into large Anaerobic ponds, which break down the pig manure. Before a new batch of piglets arrive, everything is pressure cleaned.
After viewing the very cute new “Babe’s”, I was assured to see that the big pigs were in no way as cute as piglets. They were due to be weighed the next day on the new set of scales and automatic draft. They are to be drafted three ways, the main line will go to D’Orsogno which processes the meat to deliver our Christmas ham, bacon and other processed foods. The middle line go to PPC fresh meat for Christmas pork roasts, chops etc. The lightest line goes to Woolworths, who are looking for smaller more marketable roasts.
A local Gingin person is contracted to cart the pigs. The pigs are loaded at 5am, in the cool of the day, and embark on a 2 hour journey to the processor. “According to Annette the challenge for the industry is finding good people to work at the piggery. We are very lucky having local girl, Tanya from Mogumber, who has worked with us for 11 years”.
Perhaps the attraction for Tanya is morning tea. As a good CWA member would, Annette had been up early baking a cake, which we all thoroughly enjoyed in the small brick and tile shed, offering me a wonderful glimpse into the life and humour on a pig farm.