This little piggy . . .
FARMING:Two teenagers are blazing a trail with their rare-breed pig farm. SUZANNE CAMPBELLmeets perhaps the youngest entrepreneurs in Irish farming
YOU HAVE TO be very business-minded with the figures if you want to make money from pigs,” says Patrick McInerney, who together with his brother Hugh runs an enterprise with one eye to the future. Not only are the two teenagers part of a trend in keeping rare-breed pigs at home, they also run a business selling their pork at farmers’ markets, on the internet and to prestigious customers such as Mount Juliet Hotel.
“It’s been mad here lately,” says their mother Helen. “The banamhs got out from under the fence and ran into our neighbours’ garden. They were having a great time of it, so Patrick has to get new fencing in.”
New fences are just one expense the boys have to bear out of any money they make from selling their pork. “Pigs are very costly to keep,” says Patrick, who is 17 and has just started in fifth year in school. “Feed is expensive at the moment as the price of barley has gone through the roof.”
Patrick looks after the business end of the operation; finding customers for their pork, selling banamhs, and researching pig management. The pig enterprise fits in nicely with agricultural science, which he’s taking as a Leaving Cert subject. “I’d like to study agriculture after school and work in farming, veterinary or something outdoors.”
Hugh is the younger partner in Carrigslaney Pigs. At 14, he’s currently doing most of daily care of the animals as Patrick puts more time into his studies. “I feed them every morning and evening, which takes about 15 minutes each time. You have to check them over, make sure they have water and that they’re okay.” If Patrick is the brains of the operation, Hugh is his willing apprentice, admitting to rarely differing with his brother’s point of view. “Mostly I agree with what Patrick wants to do. He’s passionate about farming and the business while I’m good at the more practical side.”
What’s remarkable is that the McInerney boys are not from a farming family. Three years ago they read about a girl their age in the UK who kept rare-breed pigs and decided they’d like to do the same. Patrick looked through the pig classifieds in the Farmers Journal and bought two Gloucester Old Spot sows and one boar. “We had our first banamhs in summer 2008 but didn’t start really getting into it until that winter, when we bought more sows and started selling the banamhs.”
This summer the boys sold their pork at farmers’ markets and surprised their mother with the ease with which they took to wheeling and dealing. “I’d be sitting nearby with a coffee, sort of not wanting to listen but I couldn’t believe how good they were – even Hugh at 14 had all the spiel about free-range pork and how good it was.”
It was also a learning experience for Patrick. “Farmers’ markets are a lot of work for the small profit you make. We’ve also found that rare-breed pork sells better in urban areas.” But taking the rough with the smooth is part of any business and Helen watches for how the ups and downs of the trade might affect the boys. “Sometimes I think it’s very young for them to know these realities of life, such as how things can go wrong as well as right,” says Helen “but it’s made them very realistic, and to make a business out of keeping pigs is very much their decision.”
Hugh, who is technology-minded as well as handy, built a website for the business with his uncle’s help. “I’d probably like to work more in technology, but I would say I’m an animal lover and I like looking after the pigs.” Does he ever feel tearful when they go off to the factory? “No,” he laughs, “only mam gets sad, myself and Patrick manage not to get too attached to them.”