PEADAR Kelly knew that if he wanted to stay full-time on the 110-acre family farm at Curraghboy, Kiltoom, Co Roscommon, he needed to invest heavily in their 30-year-old pig unit.
"We had about 60 sows and 30 suckler cows and a few sheep but I knew if I wanted a living out of it and to keep the parents right, I had a choice to invest in the farm or take work elsewhere," the 31-year-old explained.
"I trained to be a farmer and I like working for myself, so in 2008 we decided to build a new pig unit."
Mr Kelly was lucky he moved when he did. "The banks probably wouldn't be as willing now to lend us the €450,000 that we needed initially," he said.
Mr Kelly has had to resort to employing a Bulgarian worker full-time. "We tried out a few local lads but none of them had the feel for working with pigs like this fella," he said.
Since the initial investment, Mr Kelly has sunk another €300,000 into additional pig housing and state-of-the-art feeding systems. However, it is partly due to these investments that Mr Kelly is able to weather the current price squeeze.
"In the old unit, we were only able to rear and sell 21.5 pigs per sow per year. Now we're doing 26. When you're farrowing 10 sows a week, an extra pig per sow works out at an extra €65,000-a-year in sales.
"Everything here is designed to minimise costs. The lighting costs a third of what standard fluorescent lighting costs. The wet feed system is allowing me to get my pigs to slaughter weight a week earlier too, which also improves the bottom line."
Mr Kelly knows plenty of pig farmers who aren't as lucky, facing mandatory upgrades in their sow accommodation to comply with EU directives and relying on staff that may not be as motivated to maximise efficiencies.
"I don't think twice about going down a few times in the evening to check an older sow that might need help farrowing. That all helps make the thing tick better too," said Mr Kelly, a single man who fits this in around training twice a week and captaining the local intermediate football team at St Brigid's.
Looking forward, he said: "I don't want to get so big that I have to rely on staff to do all the work with the pigs. I get great satisfaction out of seeing the banbhs (piglets) through to sale. I love spending time outside on the farm and down at the mart at the weekend too. So we'll stick with what we have for the time being."