July 28, 2015

Pioneers in the piggery

The Brosnans used innovative technology to create a 1,300-sow piggery that’s efficient, humane and powered by electricity generated from pig manure and other waste products. We look at how they’re leading the way with their sustainable, whole-of-farm approach.

Married couple Paul and Dale Brosnan, who feature on the January pages of this year’s NAB Agribusiness Calendar, have been pioneers in pig farming for close to 40 years. Today, a combination of cutting-edge technology and innovative sustainable practices has made their brand BettaPork synonymous with quality and animal welfare.

“Three years ago we could see that a section of the market was pushing for sow stall-free pork so we decided to invest in a brand new 1,300-sow breeder site,” says Dale. “By importing the latest equipment from Europe we were able to exceed market expectations for animal welfare without sacrificing the benefits of a modern production system. We set performance targets with our consultants and staff and carefully monitor performance with a range of new technologies.”

To support their sustainable, whole-of-farm approach they’re building one of the first biogas facilities of its kind in Australia. “This will turn pig manure and other agricultural by-products into electricity to power the piggery,” Dale explains. “We’ll also be able to use the residue on the soil as a natural replacement for nitrogen.”

For some years, they’ve been working to enhance the balance of micronutrients in the soil where they grow grain to feed their pigs.

“This involved a big upfront investment,” says Dale. “We needed different machinery and we knew it would be three to five years before there was a marked difference in the crop but it’s been worth it. We’re now seeing a real difference in the growth rate of our pigs and in the quality of the meat.”

The Brosnans are currently growing about half the grain they need and source the balance from local producers. “As more farmers adopt the kind of soil planning technology we’re using, the quality of the grains will continue to improve,” says Dale.

Staying ahead of change

Paul grew up on a stud piggery and, after he and Dale married, they started managing it together. “It had been very successful but, by 1977, things were starting to change,” says Dale. “Studs were getting bigger and smaller ones were going out of business, so we decided to increase the size of the herd and start operating on a commercial basis.”

Over the next two decades, they bought an adjacent block of land, increased their herd to 400 sows and, in the late 90s, purchased Paul’s parents’ share of the business. And, despite having five children, they managed to invest considerable time, effort and money in research. “We went to as many talks and seminars as we could, particularly when international experts were speaking,” Dale continues. “We also travelled overseas to see what the rest of the world was doing and what technology could be adapted to Australian conditions.

An innovative future

All five Brosnan children are working directors of the business and committed to their parents’ innovative approach. “They’re not people to stand still,” says Dale. “As long as we have backing and the market sustains us, the family production system will continue to grow.”

Both Dale and Paul believe it’s essential for all farmers to invest in the next generation. “If we don’t have a dynamic and resourceful industry, we won’t retain their interest,” Dale concludes. “Our future depends on attracting young people into farming.”

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