Member Keith Dunlop’s farming career started with a third share in a wheat crop grown with his dad Harold, but it was a pig named George that would lead to a diverse and interesting life on the land.
The third-generation farmer left school at 16 to join his dad on the farm near Tamworth to grow wheat and look after a small piggery of 20 sows.
Sharing the spoils of the annual wheat crop with Dad was not enough for an ambitious young farmer who had visions of diversifying and making more coin from cropping.
“I thought I could not make a full time living out of that, so I decided to value-add the wheat and get into pigs,” Keith says.
Keith started out selling breeders, invested in a hammer mill to make his own wheat-based feed mix and sold ‘heavy porkers’ for an average of 13 to 15 pounds.
“I read somewhere that three Landrace sows and two boars were going to be imported into Australia from England,” he says.
“I did some research and found that Landrace pigs were brought into England from Sweden and within 10 years, 80 per cent of the pigs in England were Landrace.
“At the time, just about every farm I knew had a few pigs and I thought everyone would want to try the new breed out.”
Turning pigs into reality
Keith packed his bags and headed to Melbourne to purchase a male piglet from one of the two imported boars. Little did he know that the risky purchase of a piglet, later to be named George, would herald a successful farm business plan.
“George cost me 1,000 pounds at auction, which was lot of money in those days,” Keith says. “A new Holden car back then for instance, cost around 1,200 pounds.”
However George turned out to be a life changer. “I joined him up with my original sows and I sold the female piglets for 50 pounds each, which was more than three times their value as fats. The first cross boars were also in demand because the Landrace gene is so dominant.”
After three years Keith had saved up enough cash to buy his Dad’s neighbour’s farm. “Then several years later Dad wanted to retire, so I bought that farm as well,” Keith says.
“I was able to do that, get my own machinery and establish a cattle feedlot thanks to George, who was with me for five years. I ended up giving him to a neighbour so that he could start a piggery. So George continued his good work.”
With George settled in as the kingpin in a small piggery, Keith focused on improving pastures for fat lamb production and developing irrigation for lucerne and grain cropping.
“I bought another neighbour’s farm three years later and that included two large poultry sheds,” he says “I thought George and the pigs had been so good to me, so I converted the sheds into a piggery capable of growing out 2,000 pigs.”
Keith was a keen early adopter and introduced one of Australia’s first automatic feeding systems from the US to the new large-scale piggery.
Keith and had two sons and two daughters while farming in Tamworth and like his dad had done for him, Keith wanted to give the opportunity of a farming life to the next generation.
The family sold the Tamworth farm business and bought Bareela Station at Barraba, but high interest rates set back Keith’s succession plan.
“Interest rates of up to 20 per cent started to appear and I could see trouble ahead as I had borrowed a lot of money, and so I ended up selling Bareela for a good price.
“I kept the all the stock on agistment there for 12 months with the boys while things settled down. We then bought a 2,000-acre farm at Edgeroi and a grazing property at Bingara.”
Keith’s son Martin and his wife Tracey now run the farm at Edgeroi – growing cotton, canola, wheat and chickpeas and managing a beef cattle herd.
Keith retired to the coast at Port Macquarie and keeps busy with a diverse half-acre garden and beekeeping.
“It has been an interesting life,” he says. “And much of it would not have happened if it weren’t for a pig name George.”
Farm name: Glencairn, Edgeroi
Years as a Member: 67
Why am I a NSW Farmers Member?
“I joined when I was 18 and got roped into being secretary of the then Timbumburi branch near Tamworth. I am glad I did because I wanted to be a part of this great industry and being a member enables you to do that in so many ways. Now I am a retired Member and I stay informed through The Farmer magazine.”
If you enjoyed this feature on member Keith Dunlop, you might like our story on women in dairy.