Michelle’s pigs live high on the hog

The Bush Pig Farm’s story started with five little pigs from Molesworth about 10 years ago when Michelle McDermott quit her full-time job at a hospital and began her journey with the pigs.

With her husband, Brendon, Mrs McDermott bought a property at Collinsvale under the Mt Wellington Ranges 22 years ago.

The McDermotts’ pigs have been a great way for clearing and utilising land that is otherwise unsuitable for stock.

“The good thing about using pigs as well is the biodiversity,” Mrs McDermott said.

“We had red cockchafers, which is a parasite that gets in and eats and kills all the grass.

“We just put our pigs in there and they burrowed it up and got rid of them.”

When it comes to farming pigs the right way, Mrs McDermott knows they need love, care and a good life.

The farm is far from a lone venture, her close family and grandchildren are usually around to come help and visit the pigs regularly. They are currently looking after 40 piglets, seven sows and one boar on their 9ha farm.

Mrs McDermott breeds and sells piglets with the bulk of her growers being sent off to a local abattoir and to Boks Bacon to be processed.

She said there’s always high demand for good-quality Christmas hams, bacon and kranskys.

“Boks Bacon cure it the old-fashioned way,” Mrs McDermott said.

“Everything is done locally and everything is meat stamped.”

Mrs McDermott loves being able to provide her porkers locally, knowing they have had a good life.

“Everybody kept saying they’ve never tasted pork like it. I know they’ve had a good life and you can tell that in the quality of their meat,” she said.

One of her sows is 10-year-old Landrace pig, Gladys, who has been a pivotal point for how her pigs are bred.

Michelle and Chelsea with their sow, Gladys
PICTURE: Gladys Barreta

Landrace pigs are long and lean and have a faster growth rate compared to other pig breeds.

“Prior to that I had a Large White and the Large Blacks,” Mrs McDermott said.

“Once I got Gladys I realised the quality difference and the longer and leaner piglets and pork that she was producing.”

Feeding time in action
PICTURE: Gladys Barreta

Meatwise, a Landrace pig like Gladys is ideal for breeding.

“She’s actually changed my whole breeding process.

“I was travelling home after I first picked her up and Gladys Berejiklian was on the news and so I thought, yep, Gladys it is.”

Mrs McDermott said Gladys is nearing retirement, but she will be living as the lady of luxury until she has to go.

“Gladys will just have her nice little home here. She has come from an intense piggery and it changed her life when she came here,” she said.

10 year old Landrace pig, Gladys bathing in the sun
PICTURE: Gladys Barreta

Bush Pig Farm recently lost their old boar to old age and arthritis but Mrs McDermott has replaced him with a Landrace boar in her aim to keep the Landrace line alive.

Mrs McDermott said the Landrace pig breed is hard to come by now as the breed is becoming extinct.

“Even in England now they are quite rare,” she said.

“People just went with the Berkshires and Saddlebacks and they just forgot about the Landraces.”

Mrs McDermott’s two foundation sows when Bush Pig Farm started were two pure bred Large Blacks named Jill and Jan from Campbell Town and were the only two pure bred Large Blacks in Tasmania at the time.

“We started out with the Large Blacks, a Large White Landrace boar and Saddlebacks which everybody’s got,” Mrs McDermott said.

“The Saddlebacks are the black and white ones which I still have one of and they are brilliant mothers.

“I just found they were slower like the Large Blacks, slower growing and a fattier breed.”

“The Large Whites and Landrace complemented them.”

“So came along Gladys who’s a pure-bred Landrace and produced some excellent pigs.”

Piglets burrowing and playing around on the farm
PICTURE: Gladys Barreta

Mrs McDermott bought Gladys two years ago at one of the last sales where pigs were still included in the sale yards.

“The larger pork breeders were closing because there was no place to sell their pigs,” she said.

“Once the sales went, the pork industry around here died.

“The larger pork producers shut down because the saleyards shut down.”

The closure of sale yards that include pigs have been felt largely by the industry.

Mrs McDermott said it is disappointing to see the bulk of the pork being sold in supermarkets is coming from overseas.

“At Christmas time, when you go to the supermarket, all of our bacon and ham is actually brought in from overseas,” she said.

“If you look at the label it will say one per cent Australian or 10 per cent Australian.

“The floods, bushfires, drought and grain prices have just made prices go up.”

The price increase due to recent disasters and inflation unfortunately don’t reflect the market on the otherside. Mrs McDermott said her selling price for her pigs has not gone up.

“It really is a tricky business and you can understand if it was your money and your total income, it’s all really hard work raising pigs.

“Supporting the small-time people, the local farmers and helping them because we don’t charge anything close to what the supermarkets do.”

So far this year, Bush Pig Farm has sent out about 10 porkers, each at around the 30 to 40 kg mark.

“I try to grow my porkers over the warmer months, it’s easier because they’re warm rather than cold,” she said.

“Up here as well in this area, it’s pretty harsh, when it rains, it really rains, and there is frost and snow.

“Pigs can’t regulate their own temperatures. They get cold and they get hot really quickly.

“I like my porkers around the 28 to 40 kg mark. I wouldn’t go much over unless you’re doing ham or bacon.”

Currently Bush Pig Farm goes hand in hand with their mechanic business. Mr McDermott would like to diversify his workload in the future by doing cartage.

As for pigs, they want to keep their family small at the farm and be able to provide the pigs the best life they can.

“People love the pigs because they’re well handled. My granddaughter and grandson can get in there and it’s just the relationship you bring them up with,” Mrs McDermott said.

Piglets getting a feed
PICTURE: Gladys Barreta

The sows only have up to two farrows a year having rests between each farrow.

“I grow and breed my pigs for family and friends and give people the chance to buy ethically rather than buying from big supermarket chains.

“Because happy meat is better than sad meat.”

Mrs McDermott said pigs are very intelligent and faithful animals, just like a dog, which makes for more joy of having them around and as pets.

“My father-in-law actually thought that my big Large Black girls, Jill and Jan, would protect me if they had to.”