Small-scale thinking drives big picture

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeThe West Australian
Ben Short and Kathryn Bricknell with kelpie pup Jazzy at their Dandaragan farm.
Camera IconBen Short and Kathryn Bricknell with kelpie pup Jazzy at their Dandaragan farm. Credit: Cally Dupe

Operating a boutique free-range piggery is the ultimate dream for Kathryn Bricknell and Ben Short.

The farming couple and their son Alex, 5, live at Dandaragan and help to operate Mr Short’s parents’ 350 acre property a few kilometres from town.

With 35 pigs, 150 sheep, 25 head of cattle, 12 horses and 70ha of hay and pasture, the enterprise is small but creates enough work to keep them busy.

The couple, encouraged by the interest received from nearby butchers, hope to build additional yards and a slaughterhouse within five years.

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The family’s one boar and four sows are mated once a year and butchered only to feed the family.

“With everything, time is a factor, but we want to make a go of the pigs and market them as free-range,” Ms Bricknell said.

“The people that have tasted our pork have said it is great. There is no stress whatsoever.”

Piglets at the Short's family farm.
Camera IconPiglets at the Short's family farm. Credit: Countryman, Cally Dupe

Berkshire pigs, the Wagyu of the pork world, comprise the majority of the family’s pigs but there is also Great White and Saddleback in the mix.

When they are not in the yards, Ms Bricknell said the pigs were “happily left to wander” the property’s boundaries and fed a diet of grain, pellets and meat meal.

Expanding their small yards into a commercial piggery would mean investing in new yards, new pigs and a new slaughterhouse.

But it’s an investment Ms Bricknell said the pair was weighing up and hoped to make within the next two years.

“We plan to get another boar and two more sows, and expand the yards to include a boar pen and farrowing pen,” Ms Bricknell said.

“I don’t think we would ever have more than 10 breeding pigs here. It would just be a small operation.”

It’s been a busy few weeks at the farm, with eight four-month-old, three two-month-old and 19 two-week-old piglets on hand.

Both Ms Bricknell and Mr Short operate their own contracting businesses — spraying, hay contracting and farm labouring.

It’s a busy and diverse life, but the pair wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mr Short’s parents Jill and Laurie Short live at the farming property and have worked the land with family members since 1970.

The property was originally settled by Laurie’s relative John Cooke Senior in the late 1800s.

Mr Cook was working as a teamster for Dandaragan’s original settler James Drummond and initially squatted on the land.

At one stage the Short’s operation was bigger, encompassing 1800 acres within the Shire of Dandaragan.

But in the mid-70s, the family passed on other blocks and decided to keep the operation small.

They also tried their hand at aquaculture between 1995 and 2001, with black bream and yabbies.

Laurie said he still caught “the occasional yabby” but said the cost of fish feed hindered the operation at $80/20kg.

Pasture and hay paddocks were seeded two weeks ago and the family is now looking to the skies waiting for rain.

They received marginal summer rainfall and, like many parts of the grain belt, have experienced an exceptionally dry year.

Ms Bricknell said contracting their services to other farmers had helped to keep their operation afloat.

“I could never live in the city,” she said.

“I like wide open spaces and wouldn’t want life any other way.

“Without farmers, Australia can’t grow and we are just like all of the others — trying to do our little bit for the world.”

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