Last year’s listeriosis outbreak was a clear demonstration to the owners of Mockford Farms in Limpopo that their dependence on a single market left their business exposed. Undeterred, they strategised, re-angled and strengthened their position by adding value and setting up an online marketing platform. Through this channel they now market their own premium pork from farm to fork.

South Africa is a net importer of pork, especially pork ribs. When the rand is weak, imported pork outcompetes locally produced pork and gets a better foothold in the domestic pork sector. The listeriosis outbreak demonstrated pork producers’ lack of control in the market and made the Mockfords very aware of how vulnerable they were selling only live animals. 

Bradley Mockford, who manages the production unit at Mockford Farms, says the listeriosis outbreak created a significant change in the market. “The market suffered strong consumer resistance and was immediately oversupplied with pork,” he explains. Bradley started to make some changes to his business while working on influencing consumer perception on pork products and the safety of properly farmed and processed pork meat.

Added value and online marketing

As part of adapting the operation to successfully manage the market crisis, Mockford Farms decided to slaughter its own pigs and process, pack and deliver various pork products, reducing its dependence on the slaughter market. The Mockfords set up their own pork outlet called The Flying Pig, an agricultural business with the motto ‘Premium Pork from Farm to Fork’, which is currently moving about five tons of pork a week. They aim to grow their supply capacity to about 13 tons a week.

Bradley Mockford, his wife Joanne and their son Mason with some of the products the Flying Pig delivers direct to its clients.

Although clients can order products telephonically, most of the sales take place online. The business delivers right to the homes of its clients over a fairly wide-ranging area of the country. Capturing an increased share of the pork industry’s value chain has made a significant difference to their bottom line. 

There is a variety of products for clients to choose from and customers also have access to new recipes. The focus is on giving people the best possible pork eating experience, while reassuring them about the safety of what they are eating.

Only the most nutritious cuts from prime carcasses are used in the value-adding process. The production unit at Mockford Farms slaughters the pigs and sends the selected carcasses to Prime Cut Foods, a professional food packing company that assembles and vacuum packs the products in recyclable boxes before orders are distributed to clients.

Pig production protocols

Bradley says pig farming is their passion and the core of the Mockford family business. They raise their pigs on a carefully selected, nutritious diet and the animals have freedom of movement in a hygienic and pig-friendly environment. This gives them the ability to produce top quality pork.

Pig production has become highly scientific and the enterprise employs the services of specialist nutritionists and veterinary consultants to advise them on every aspect of pig production. They also use piggery building experts, ensuring optimum habitats for their pigs. The production units have strict hygiene protocols in place and are accredited by Pork 360 and audited annually. This is how the business maintains the standards needed to keep delivering safe, high quality, antibiotic-free pork to the customer.

Product choices

The Flying Pig offers its clients a variety of breakfast, dinner and festive occasion menu options and a package weight selection choice. The range includes a 30kg appropriately cut, portioned and frozen package delivered in a lined, recyclable box and conveniently packaged to go straight into the customer’s freezer. The ‘premium pork’ box is 12,5kg.

The Flying Pig’s pork boxes and products are distributed in Limpopo and in parts of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape. Online orders take anything from two to ten days to get to client destinations and the Mockfords are investigating options for clients who prefer monthly or fortnightly deliveries. The operation is in a phase of enjoying organic business growth and customers can consult the Flying Pig website for information, as products and distribution ranges are continuously updated.

Breeding programme

There are roughly 1 500 sows in the production unit and Bradley aims to send 750 weaned piglets a week into the growing houses, where they are finished off for the market.

Gilts come from the Mockford Farms’ breeding unit, where DanBred genetics are used. Pure DanBred Landrace and DanBred Large White pigs are crossbred and the F1 progeny is bred to DanBred Duroc boars in a terminal crossbreeding system.

Semen is imported from DanBred in Denmark and selected from boars with the highest indices to drive their own breeding programme. The sow replacement rate was recently increased by 120% per annum to accelerate genetic progress and boost the breeding programme. The prohibition of live animal imports to exclude swine from entering the country means that the Mockfords rely on imported frozen semen.

However, frozen semen is not as viable as fresh semen and conception, farrowing and live birth rates in inseminated sows is lower than it would be if gilts were bred to the boar. The cost of importing frozen semen, the lower reproduction rates and accompanying production losses makes it expensive to breed pigs this way, but the benefits of genetic progress for the business and its customers makes it worthwhile.

The DanBred breeding programme has been developed through focused breeding over 120 years and is one of the most robust breeding systems around. The Large White, Landrace and Duroc lines are pure bred. The Large White and Landrace breeds are crossed to produce F1 hybrid females, and the DanBred F1 hybrid is the most prolific sow in the world today. A Duroc boar or semen is used on the F1 hybrid sow to produce a fast-growing slaughter pig. The Duroc line brings carcasses with outstanding uniformity and meat quality to the cross and reduces pre- and post-weaning mortalities.

Improving the experience

Bradley predicts rapid improvement in on-farm performance and production. The pork price in Denmark is low and production costs are high, which means that pig farmers can only survive if their operations are extremely efficient. The same principles apply to pork producers in South Africa.

The local pig industry is currently in a good space with potential for an upswing in the market. The challenge is to increase the per capita consumption of pork and to market the product more effectively. Bradley thinks the Flying Pig concept is one way to accomplish better marketing and increased consumption of pork. It is a concept that works towards making the whole experience of buying and eating pork easier for the consumer, while offering meat from a single, contained point of origin. – Andries Gouws, Stockfarm

For more information, contact Bradley Mockford on 076 914 2579 or hillside@mockfordfarms.co.za, or visit www.theflyingpig.co.za.