by Leeann Minogue
He wasn’t sure he would be raising pigs, but Jay McGrath always knew he would be involved in agriculture.
Jay grew up as part of a big family in a small community. His grandparents, Gerald and Bea McGrath, were grain farmers at Leroy, Saskatchewan. “My grandparents had 11 kids,” Jay says, explaining how the McGrath farm expanded over the years.
As the family grew, their grain farm, McGrath Farms, grew too, as Jay’s father and uncles stepped into the business. When Jay finished school in 1992, he was eager to join in. Soon after that, the McGraths saw an opportunity for expansion.
Pigs weren’t new to the McGraths. “My grandfather always had pigs,” Jay says. But, like many farmers that raised pigs on a small scale, the McGraths had given them up in 1983. By the 1990s, hog barns had become a more commercial business. “I don’t remember putting my hand up at the family meeting when they asked ‘Who wants to learn about pigs?’” Jay says, but when the McGraths started Sinnett Pork Farm in 1997, Jay was at the helm.
The McGraths knew they had made the right decision when the first litter was born. “The sow had 11 piglets,” Jay says. There were seven males and four females, the same family mix as Jay’s father and his siblings.
The circle of production
With growth over the years, Sinnett Pork Farm is now a 2,600 sow, farrow-to-finish hog farm. Every week, about 120 sows farrow (give birth to) between 1,400 and 1,500 piglets. The piglets are fed in the barns for about three to four months until they are “finished,” or ready for transport to HyLife Foods, a pork processing plant in Neepawa, Manitoba.
This simple explanation doesn’t tell the whole story of the circular process. Feed for the hogs comes from Leroy Feeds Ltd, another part of the McGrath family operation. Leroy Feeds grinds the grain grown by the McGraths and other local farmers to produce nutritionally-specific swine feed. In addition, manure from the barns is used throughout the farming season and spread as a rich crop fertilizer on nearby farmland.
Of course, there can be downsides. The industry itself has faced public concerns for the indoor housing of animals. Jay manages Sinnett Pork Farm to ensure that the animals are cared for according to best practices. “There’s a code of practice, and we follow that carefully,” he says. Over the years, Jay has spent many days away from the barns volunteering with the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board, working to make sure the hog industry is constantly improving and continues to produce safe and healthy pork.
Jobs for the community
Like most hog operations, Sinnett Pork Farm has created many jobs in the community. Between the hog barns, the feed mill, and the washing operation that disinfects empty trucks returning from the HyLife Foods plant, approximately 50 people from the Leroy area are employed.
Many of the staff are recent immigrants from the Philippines. Young families moving to Saskatchewan to work at the hog barn are helping to keep the town of Leroy alive. “Years ago, our school was in real danger of closing as the population fell,” Jay says. Now the school is thriving, and there are still kids’ minor hockey teams playing in the skating rink. “If you don’t have your school and you don’t have your rink,” Jay says, “your community struggles.”
The McGraths have always demonstrated the importance they place on community through their actions. Jay’s father, uncles, aunts, and grandparents have been active in the local Co-op, the Credit Union, the rural municipality, and all kinds of other local clubs and activities. Now Jay’s generation of McGraths and their children are stepping up to fill those roles.
A bright future
Jay’s family is doing their part to carry on the McGrath tradition. His wife Brucie is Sinnett Pork Farm’s office manager and bookkeeper. Their sons, Mitchell and Matthew, 21 and 20, both spend time working on the farm, in the mill or in the barns.
Jay admits that he finds the agriculture business “a little bit addicting.” He loves working with animals, though he’s not able to spend as much time in the barns as he would like. “When I first started, I was in the barns every day. As our business grew, I migrated into the business and management side of it.”
These days, Jay is also motivated by the farm’s role in feeding the world. “To think at Leroy, Saskatchewan, our sows farrow and we feed and ship our high-quality pork, and some of that product ends up on somebody’s plate in Japan. It’s rewarding to know our contributions are helping to feed the world.”