As happy as pigs in the mud

As happy as pigs in the mud

Angus Allan travels deep into the heart of South Canterbury to find some of the country's most contented pigs

Havoc Farm lies nestled at the foot of South Canterbury’s lush Hunters Hills. But it’s not just the setting that’s idyllic – Havoc is a completely free-range pig farm, where the animals’ welfare comes before anything else – a rare situation in the New Zealand pig industry. And because Havoc Farm pigs are healthy and stressfree, there’s no need for antibiotics or artificial growth promoters.

Havoc Farm was started by Scotsman Ian Jackson in 1996 after he became disillusioned with conventional indoor pig farming methods. There’s no need to justify why that would be.

He moved to Waimate when he realised the region offered almost perfect outdoor pig farming conditions. The climate is about as dry as it can be in New Zealand. The land is flat and freedraining, and there’s a plentiful supply of locally grown grain for feed. These days, whenever a batch of cheddar doesn’t make the grade at a local dairy factory, the lucky pigs get a feed of cheese. Pigs will eat almost anything and it’s a far better use for the cheese than it going to waste in a landfill.

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Not long after establishing his dream pig farm, Ian also found love, and today he and his wife, Linda, share the running of the business. Linda looks after sales as well as overseeing their Waimate butchery, where all the pork from the farm is processed. Their range of products includes fresh pork, every type of bacon you can make, prosciutto, baby back ribs, pork belly, a full range of 100-percent pork sausages and of course fresh or cooked cured Christmas hams.

Producing a top-quality product, selling locally and direct to the general public as well as to restaurants, and keeping in touch with their customers are the core values behind Ian and Linda’s business. Each weekend they make the two-hour drive to Dunedin to the Otago Farmers Market, where they’ve been committed stallholders since the market’s inception in 2003.

I’m a huge advocate for buying only high-quality, humanely-produced food. It is always more expensive, but I prefer to pay more and if necessary eat less.

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It’s surprising that poor-quality pork is so abundant in New Zealand, and that most of what’s on sale has been imported. Country-of-origin labelling is not mandatory yet, so a pork product labelled “Manufactured in New Zealand” provided by the mainstream pork industry often contains imported pork. Cured products, like bacon and leg of ham, are often injected with water to increase their weight. Have you noticed that when you cook bacon it can shrink by up to a half as the water evaporates? A high-quality cured product does not do this.

Havoc’s 90 sows and four boars – including one called Willy Wonka because of his wonky willy – roam over 20 hectares. There’s plenty of space for the sows to sleep and wallow in the mud. And when they’re farrowing each sow is given its own enclosure with a wee house in which to suckle its piglets. At Havoc Farm sows also produce only two litters annually, instead of the usual two and a half. Compare the life of a Havoc sow with the life of a sow on an intensive farm. Most of the latter’s time is spent in a stall about the size of a single bed (0.7m x 2m) – not much room for an animal typically weighing more than 200 kilograms.

Havoc Farm’s a haven for 90 sows and four boars, including Willy Wonka, with the wonky willy. Set on 20 hectares in South Canterbury, its a recipe for happy pigs and delicious free-range pork

To say that Havoc piggies seem truly happy in their environment might make it sound like a scene from the movie Babe, but I’m not embellishing the truth. The Havoc Farm story shows why free-range pork is more expensive than intensively farmed pork – and also why Havoc meat tastes so good.

Support local farmers by trying free-range pork instead of an imported water-filled product. Havoc Farm ham is available online at www.havocfarm.co.nz, with shipping throughout New Zealand. Freedom Farms is another option in supermarkets and online (www.freedomfarms.co.nz).

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