Thursday, April 25, 2024

Animal welfare, sustainability key to North Canty pig farm

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Over the past few months New Zealand Pork has been encouraging Kiwis to support NZ’s pig farmers by only buying homegrown pork.
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North Canterbury pig farmer Holly Sterne says care and good stockmanship, ensuring calm happy pigs in a good environment, is critical to producing quality pork.

Over the past few months New Zealand Pork has been encouraging Kiwis to support NZ’s pig farmers by only buying homegrown pork.

Industry launched a social media campaign urging New Zealanders to back local farmers and choose NZ-raised pork over imported pork.

“We’ve been reminding New Zealanders to check product labels to ensure the pork is 100% NZ pork or look for the Born and Raised in NZ PigCare label,” NZ Pork general manager David Baines said.

“If it says ‘made in NZ from local and imported ingredients’, then chances are it’s imported.

As part of the campaign, farmers behind their pork are sharing their stories about what makes NZ pork such a quality product.

Patoa Farms may not be a familiar name to many Kiwis, but many will have enjoyed the pork from this family-owned farm in North Canterbury.

More than 20 years ago, Steve Sterne, Jens Ravn and their families joined forces with a vision to farm pigs outdoors and as close to their natural habitat as possible.

The farm on the south bank of the Hurunui River is now managed by Steve and his daughter Holly, who has always had an interest in primary industries.

“I clearly remember as a little girl getting my own set of wet weather gear, it was bright red, and saying I am going farming,” Holly said.

But that didn’t happen until much later.

“I spent seven years in the banking industry and it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s, then realising the diverse skillsets needed in farming and how my skills could be absorbed into the family’s farming business,” she said.

“So, I don’t necessarily see myself as a pig farmer but, with my skillset, as a businesswoman in the roles of finance, governance and environmental compliance.

“We are a family-owned business, with an ongoing vision for growth and to be successful it’s about utilising specialist skills right across the business.”

On Patoa Farms the sows roam free, with small straw-based shelters in large paddocks for farrowing.

The pigs being finished for bacon are in large eco-barns, with deep-litter straw, which Holly says is the perfect blend for producing pork in the most eco-friendly sustainable way possible.

Patoa Farms pork carries an SPCA Blue Tick and is accredited under NZ Pork’s PigCare™ certification programme.

It is a popular product at Countdown, Harris Meats in nearby Cheviot and from wholesalers who supply independent butchers.

The focus at Patoa Farms is to farm pigs in a natural and sustainable way, creating a circular economy of inputs and outputs, in terms of the cycle of nutrients through its ecosystem, all supported by the latest technology.

Holly strongly believes that while 80% of pork quality can be attributed to genetics and high-quality feed, care and good stockmanship is critical.

“Good stockmanship and good welfare all through the life of the pigs is a significant factor in the quality of the product,” she said.

“Calm, happy pigs in a good environment, cared for by understanding staff, is so important to us at Patoa Farms.

“I also love the resilience of pigs, they are incredibly intelligent animals.

The free-farming system producing about 100,000 pigs a year, employs 55 people, contributing $2 million in wages to the local economy.

Patoa is an approved provider of the Primary ITO NZ certificate in pork production qualification for levels three and four.

“We can offer that on-farm due to our economy of scale and means staff don’t have to go offsite to do block courses and it makes it much easier for them to work around families, children and other commitments,” she said.

“In our industry, a lot of training happens on the job too.

The family has a strong focus on community.

When the local Hawarden Hotel was faced with closure, they bought it and reopened it as the Hogget bar and restaurant, providing a social hub as well as accommodation for farm staff moving into the area.

In her spare time, Sterne’s hobby is helping with the development of a sheep milking flock.

“Our pride is not just in our product but in our overall organisation.

“What we do is so much about bringing a whole variety of people together who produce something very special.

“We are always trying to look forward to deliver a better outcome for our people, the environment, the community and our animals.”

Sterne says at the end of the day producers want to be aspirational while running environmentally sustainable farming businesses.

“But we need consumer support to be resilient in both production and consumption and not be reliant on global trade.”

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