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Breton Pork

France is the second largest exporter of agri-food products in the world, after the US. And Brittany on its own could feed the whole of France. In 2017, 56% of the country’s pork was reared here, by around 3,500 Breton pig farmers, with an average of 200-300 sows each.

I would say this is almost certainly too much, as evidenced by the problematic proliferation of green algae, particularly on the north coast, in the Bay of Morlaix, the principal cause of which is animal effluent. This intensive breeding has direct and indirect consequences for the environment.

Pig farming in Brittany is well established … as related below by Jean Guillermou, who farmed pigs at Gouesnac’h from 1959, although he has been in retirement for many years now.

And this excellent video from our partner St Thomas TV shows a visit to a very modern and ecological farm, giving an understanding of the current conditions in which pigs are reared and of how things are evolving in the world of pig farming, an area in which generations of Bretons have incomparable expertise.

Nowadays animal welfare is also much more focussed on. France stands out as having mostly small producers. As a comparison, in 2015 France produced only 1.9 million tonnes, compared to Germany which produced 5.5 million tonnes and even Spain produced more at 3.9 million tonnes. The price per kilo for European pork ranged from €1.03 to €1.45 in November 2017.

Pig farming often suffers from a bad image in the eyes of consumers, and much effort has been made to improve this, and also to show greater respect for the animals, for example in not systematically castrating piglets and in reducing the amount of antibiotics used. This is heading towards the development of organic pig farming, which is still new and expensive at the moment, but is promising for the future, including for export.

Pork is a global product and is therefore dependent on the financial world, and it is also a consumable and therefore dependent on the distribution chain. China, in particular, can hugely influence prices, by buying more or buying less from Europe. And Breton farmers must invest in order to modernise their operations, and to remain competitive in this global market they must make their product the best!


The life of a pig farmer from Gouesnac’h in southern Finistère, Brittany


I returned from Algeria, where France was at war; I was a parachutist. I was 23 years old, and my parents had a farm at Gouesnac’h, in southern Finistère. My father was ill, and I quickly found myself responsible for the family business. In addition to working the fields, 25 hectares in total, I had a variety of animals (namely: horses, cows, farmyard and hutch animals, and pigs) – a traditional mixed farm.

In the piggery, I continued to feed our four sows with produce from the farm. On average, each sow was producing one and a half litters a year, which equated to about 6 or 7 piglets per sow, which were then weaned and reared to sale weight on the farm.

I used to sell some of my piglets at the Saturday market in Quimper, and some to a broker who was employed at that time by two firms specialising in tinned goods, Hénaff et Jaouen. We also kept two or three pigs for our own family consumption.

                      Hénaff le porc Breton

1960 – 1966

I expanded my pig breeding and switched to an ‘open air’ setup, building 13 comfortable ‘maternity’ sheds for the sows across an area of one hectare. It was a radical change, now obtaining 18 weaned piglets per sow per year, with grouped births. Summer was great, but winter was hellish! At this time, I attended various instructive events in order to learn more about the industry, and I made study trips to Holland and England.

My aim was to specialise solely in pig farming, breeding and rearing, and to maintain it as a small scale, family business, which could be run by just two people.


At this time, I discontinued cattle rearing, and I greatly increased the number of sows we had, which necessitated the construction of specially adapted buildings. That is, a careful division of the ‘maternity’ compartments, and other areas with duckboards for the pregnant sows.

I now had a very well-functioning ‘model’ operation, and I began buying pigfeed from COPASUD, the association of pig farmers with whom I worked.

However I was not able to realise my goal of fattening the piglets to sale weight. This was due to environmental restrictions, as a drinking water reservoir serving Bénodet was situated just 50 metres from the farm!

For this reason, the weaned piglets, who weighed between 22 and 25 kilos, were collected each week and sold to a member of COPASUD who would then grow them on for sale.

1980 – 1990

I now had 90 to 100 sows, and 3 carefully chosen males. The operation required constant supervision and a permanent state of vigilance. But it remained a small scale, family business, as I had hoped. And it worked well.

The business was run by the two of us, by my wife and myself, and my children also helped with tasks appropriate for their ages.

In summary, the business functioned very smoothly, which made the work itself easier. I had a fair salary, a regular income, enabling my family to live comfortably.

In the 80s and 90s, the market operated within Europe and the price of pork was relatively stable. It is different nowadays as the market is global and the prices are listed on the stock exchange.


Time to share things out between the family, so I began to sell my sows off gradually.


I came to the end of my pig farming journey, and I retired at the age of 60.

Jean Guillermou

Jean Guillermou