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Pig breeding -- a rewarding story

(China Daily)

09:05, August 22, 2011

Even a family pig farm can bring a lot of hogs to market, like this one in Fengqiao village, Zhuji, Zhejiang province. But smaller operations are closing because of unstable prices and havoc caused by disease. (Photo from China Daily)

Rising costs and diminishing returns bring new approach, Yang Wanli and Shi Baoyin report from Henan.

China, the world's leading pork producer, is changing the way it raises pigs.

At one end, small family farms are buckling under the weight of volatile prices, disease and rising costs.

At the other end, industrial-scale farms are becoming part of the landscape. But between these two options is a new cooperative venture that combines the personal attention of the family farm with the economic advantages of a corporation.

Yang Zhongxi, 44, of Qinyang, Henan province, has had to change his farming methods recently.

He used to raise more than 100 pigs at a time, making him the most prolific pig farmer in his village. In May 2010, he spent 100,000 yuan ($15,700) building a new barn capable of holding 200 pigs, plus hundreds of ducks and chickens.

But higher costs and lower returns took their toll and he quit the pig business earlier this year. Only the birds inhabit the big new barn.

"The cost of raising hogs has soared this year," he said. "Four or five years ago, a baby pig cost 300 yuan. It is double that now."

It has always been a high-risk business, but local farmers welcomed it, Yang said. "Generally, we could still make money." Ten years ago, 15 or 16 small-scale breeders lived in his village. Now only two are left.

Yang said the price of feed, usually field corn, increased in his village by 0.4 yuan a kilogram early this year. A pig usually requires 300 kg of feed during its five-month growth period, so feeding each pig suddenly cost an extra 120 yuan. Five years ago, Yang said, the cost of raising a hog totaled about 1,000 yuan; now it's about 1,500 yuan. The selling price, 2,500 yuan, hasn't changed.

"Doing city jobs only paid 10 to 20 yuan a day years ago, and people would rather raise hogs," Yang said. "But now, people make 100 yuan a day by doing city jobs. Who would choose breeding pigs?"

Too much work

Ten miles away, Li Qinying barely maintains her hog barn. Twenty pigs live in what used to hold nearly 150, and they are the last she will raise.

"It's too tiring," said Li, 54. "People say the more plowing and weeding, the better the crop. It doesn't make sense in this industry.

"Epidemic prevention is a big problem," Li said. Early last year, dozens of young pigs got sick and died overnight. The cause remains a mystery. "It is hard to accept because I took them as my babies and sometimes didn't step out of the pig house for months."

The wildly fluctuating price also is killing Li's passion for raising pigs.

A couple of weeks ago, she heard that the market price had hit 20.4 yuan a kg, and she planned to sell some pigs. But the price dropped to 19.2 yuan the next day. "The final deal was just 18.2 yuan. That hurt me badly."

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