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Agri Comments

Welcome to Agri – Comments, where we will profile one of our customers every few months. 

Hamish and Vicki Mee 

There’s a lot going on in the pork industry, not all of it in the paddock.

Pig farmers like Hamish and Vicki Mee of Methven are exceeding New Zealand’s new animal welfare laws but the pigs they breed and fatten face unfair competition from cheap imported pork. New Zealand currently imports 800,000kgs a week from countries like Finland, Canada, USA, Denmark and Sweden; pigs in these countries are farmed using animal welfare practices outlawed in this country.The industry is also fighting the Government to stop the import of uncooked pork cuts, which could bring in the devastating pig respiratory disease PRRS. The virus causes piglet mortality pre-weaning as high as 70% and another 12-15% die post weaning. Vaccination has not been a successful control strategy as the virus mutates.

While the Pork Industry Board goes into bat against the politicians, pig farmers like the Mees are building environmentally and financially-sound operations.

They have been raising pigs for nearly 20 years and since 2007 have been farming on 200 acres at Methven Chertsey Road. Weaners fattened on Le Mee Farm are born to breeding sows that spend their lives outdoors; the young ones stay with their mothers in breeding huts, roaming freely until they are weaned and housed in barns where they will stack on around 70kg until heading to slaughter.

The Mees’ outdoor operation fits with the “no cages, crates or pens” philosophy of New Zealand company Freedom Farms and their animals are processed proudly under that label. Traceability and animal welfare are key.

Pig farming this way is a labour-intensive operation though. The Mees try to be as self-contained as possible, growing grain that is ground on-farm for pig meal, breeding their own weaners and recycling sawdust and straw from the fattening barns into compost that is spread around the farm.

Visitors must abide by strict hygiene rules by wearing overalls and gumboots provided; vehicles that come onto the property must not pass a clear demarcation line between the farm yard and breeding-fattening site.

Hamish and Vicki started in May 1994 with just 36 gilts (young breeding sows) and six boars. Within five months they had built the herd up to 100 sows and were selling weaned piglets at four weeks old.

By 2000, breeding sow numbers had doubled and they decided to begin fattening the weaners themselves. Today, they have 360 sows, producing around 140 piglets a week; each sow will have an average 2.3 litters a year, with 10.5 piglets weaned per litter. Weaners come into the fattening sheds at four weeks weighing around 8kg and leave four months later weighing 80kg.

Their diet is carefully managed and blended on farm, using the advice of a specialist pig nutritionist. The meal contains 25 ingredients, in six different blends according to the sows’ production stage, weaners’ ages and stages of growth. The animals get through around 43 tonnes a week.

The sows are artificially inseminated on-farm using semen bought from PIC (Pig Improvement Company). The piglets are bred to be fast-growing and efficient converters of feed, providing lean meat.

Hamish says not many people know how to cook pork properly and most treat it as a white meat rather than a red meat. The Pork Industry Board has started an education campaign designed to get pork onto New Zealand dinner tables more often – with cuts outside the traditional pork roast, like leg and loin steaks. Pork meat has half the fat of other red meats and is high in iron – but people tend to overcook it and not enjoy the result.

He says there is a big opportunity to grow the market, with pork among the most popular meats eaten worldwide. Hamish likes working with pigs, and says they have more brains than the 10 pet sheep Vicki also minds.

He and four other staff are in the paddocks every day, feeding stock, cleaning out the barns, weighing the incoming or outgoing weaners, drafting baconers for sale, milling feed and making sure the breeding stock are happy.

The farm is audited annually by SPCA inspectors and must pass Freedom Farms’ high animal welfare rules. Their relationship with Molloy Agriculture is on two levels. David and Sonia Molloy are financial partners in the pig farm; however the Mees have plans to buy them out.

Agronomists from Mountainview Agronomy offer advice regarding the cropping operation on the pig farm. The breeding sites are moved regularly and crops like wheat and barley grown in rotation. The pig industry uses plenty of grain, nationally around 20 per cent of what is produced in New Zealand; that’s currently more than the dairy industry. The Mees use 1800 tonnes of grain per year, producing around a third on farm, with the remaining purchased from local growers.


Agri Comments - Best Advice


Welcome to Agri – Comments, where we regularly profile one of our customers every few months. This time around, we meet Clibborn farms. More here.

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Hamish and Vicki Mee. More here.

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