Life on the piggy farm
Damn simple this is.
We think it’s the right thing to do.
We believe that everyone who eats meat has a responsibility to ensure they know how the animals
have been farmed and to be sure they are good with that. We reckon piggies should always be in an environment that allows them to display their natural behaviour. The more natural the environment the happier the piggy and the healthier the piggy.
And there’s another real good part… the happier the piggy the better the pork. For us it’s not about cheaper and cheaper… it’s about happier, healthier piggies and better tasting pork.
We actually describe what we do as ‘Freedom Farming’… not free range. The thing is… we reckon free-range should mean that the piggy has lived all of its life in a field like sheep and cows do and this is actually very rare for piggies.
However for us as consumers and for most people we talk to, what we are looking for is an assurance that the piggies have been farmed without cruelty, can always display their natural behaviour and their welfare is the number one priority (this is why we have every farm independently audited by AsureQuality to make sure the ‘five freedoms’ welfare standards are being met).
But there’s heaps more… When we say ‘Farmed the Freedom Way’ it’s about more than where the piggies live. It’s about saying no way to growth hormones and tricky chemicals in the feed. It’s about controlling the use of antibiotics… trying to farm more sustainably and improving the quality of the meat we produce.
Too much to insist on? Hell no.
In an idyllic world… we would like all those pigs in NZ kept inside on concrete to be let outside to roam. Wouldn’t that be awesome? But the reality is… it wouldn’t be awesome for long. It’s a matter of sustainability and scale… and managing a whole pile of piggy do do. Pigs wee about 30ml/kg per day… so a 70kg pig deposits just over 2L of urine onto the ground every day, as well as about 5kg of poo. The poos and wees is rich in nitrogen… which is a problem. When too much nitrogen builds up in the soil it can leak down into the water table, or directly into our waterways… which overstimulates growth of aquatic plants and algae. You’ve probably seen people talking about farming and the yuck state of our waterways in the news? A big part of that is because there are just too many farm animals depositing their business on the ground. For us Freedom farming is about ensuring the piggy has a good life without us messing up the environment. Here’s how it can be done…
Our piggies start out their lives in paddocks, chasing bugs and following mum and generally being pretty chuffed about life. Then, once they’ve left mum, they’re moved into big open sided yards, called deep straw shelters. There’s a roof to keep out the rain (otherwise the ground turns to a massive slip’n’slide) but open enough to have lots of fresh air, sunny spots to bask in, shady bits for snoozing, and heaps of straw for napping, rooting around and playing in. In these shelters the pigs have access to food and clean water 24/7… and heaps of room to hoon around. The farmers stock up the straw to keep it fresh and fun to play in… and when the pigs head off for processing they scoop up all the trampled straw and the poo and wee that has been captured in it… and turn it into compost. This keeps the waste from polluting the land… and makes use of it in a really practical way!
Would we love to see all piggies outside in paddocks all their lives? Sure. But sadly unless the world farms way less pigs… it’s not realistic environmentally. Yes, there are a few free range farms out there with small droves of pigs and these can be sustainable. We love what they do. But we want more than that. We want to encourage farming that allows every indoor farm to transform into a ‘Freedom farm’.
Too much to insist on? Not at all.
There’s a heap of tricky stuff going on in farming worldwide these days. Some piggies have tricky chemicals slipped into their feed… designed to trick their bodies into producing lean muscle rather than fat.
NZ still permits one of these chemicals… ractopamine… to be fed to pigs produced here. We don’t like that. So it’s a big no-no on our farms.
We say ‘fat is good’… and it’s where the best flavour lives too!
Well actually we don’t think so… most pork farmed in NZ is farmed the same way as it is overseas… with crates and barren concrete fattening pens. Sad.
It’s good news that sow crates have finally gone in NZ… but that’s all that’s gone.
We reckon all piggies would like to be farmed the Freedom way… and we know heaps of other people out there think that too.
It’s not the farmers fault… they are told people just want ‘cheap’. But heaps of us are prepared to pay a bit more. What do you think?
Thankfully NZ pig farmers have said a big ‘no way’ to using tricky growth hormones in NZ… it’s a voluntary ban we’re delighted about.
The most commonly used hormone is called PST (Porcine Somatotropin). It’s still registered for use in NZ… but we don’t know of anyone using it here… But… it’s pretty common in the countries pork is imported from.
There’s heaps of pork being imported into NZ… and as consumers we have no idea if it has hormones in it or not. Our farmers are getting a raw deal because they’re not puffing up their pigs with hormones… meaning they produce less meat for the same amount of work as their international competitors. Stink.
We reckon that’s not fair, and lots of you have told us you agree. Please make sure the brand you support guarantees no growth hormones…
Without a doubt.
The big problem with indoor pig farming is that they create as much raw sewerage as a small town (well some of the big ones do).
This sewerage is a real threat to our environment. It needs to go somewhere but it often ends up in the waterways and even in the water table. Not good we say.
By farming the sows and their piglets in fields the soil is enriched naturally.
And when the piggies are raised on deep straw they are busy enriching the straw with their poop.
We love that because the straw is then composted and spread back over the fields… or used by other gardeners.
No way… absolutely not.
We reckon that would be yuck!!
Here’s the thing.
Product of NZ doesn’t mean the pork was farmed in NZ.
The reality is, most pork, ham and sausages are made from frozen imported pork.
This means you can’t be sure how it has been farmed.
Bet you could guess though…?
No… to the best of our knowledge there is only a couple of very small scale certified organic pig farms in NZ. We think it’s awesome that they are able to make it work… but again it’s a matter of scale.
The challenge is feed. To be organic the feed needs to be organic too… and for a larger operation this means importing feed from overseas. We don’t like this and would prefer to support our farmers to grow the feed right on the farms. That makes more sense to us… so for the time being won’t achieve organic certification.
Maybe one day.
The reality is getting on a truck and heading off down the road can be stressful for a piggy.
We have deliberately chosen an abattoir that is nice and close to the farms to help reduce this stress.
The abattoir is privately owned (and is also inspected by AsureQuality auditors). This is important to us.
We have been there ourselves with the auditors to be sure it’s always humane.
Crate is really just a nice word for a cage (sometimes the industry refers to them as stalls).
Sow crates are used to separately confine the pregnant sows for all or part of her pregnancy.
They are roughly the size of the sow… i.e. think of the size of a large family sized fridge.
She can’t walk or even turn around.
These crates are currently being used worldwide… including the countries that NZ imports pork from… although they are gradually being banned… yippee. They are of course prohibited on a Freedom Farm.
A sow’s natural instinct is to actually build a nest when pregnant in anticipation of the arrival of her litter. We think that’s important which is why all our pregnant sows have their own shelter in a field which we fill up with straw for her. She eventually gives birth to her litter in this shelter. Nice.
Really it’s another cage (sitting on a concrete floor) that the pregnant sow is moved to just prior to giving birth. She is confined in this crate whilst she gives birth and then for approximately another 3-4 weeks until her litter is weaned.
The farrowing crate is probited by Freedom Farms.
This crate means the sow is unable to move about or even turn around. She is unable to instinctively mother her piglets.
We think she deserves to be able to live in a straw shelter just like in the wild. Give birth naturally in this “nest” and be able to mother her piggies in an unresticted environment.
Heaps of people know about those sow crates and farrowing crates now… and that’s a good thing. Good riddance to them we say and we are sure the sows out there will be thrilled to know people are finally getting on to it.
But for us it’s not only about the breeding mums… it’s also about where the piggies we turn into bacon actually live? vSadly for them, the majority live their entire lives crowded into wee small concrete pens inside a big shed. The industry calls them ‘concrete fattening pens’. We call them something else.
We reckon it’s a miserable existence and we reckon deep straw shelters or open fields are a far better way.
For us it’s about piggy being able to do ‘piggy things’. Having the space to run about, digging in the straw or the dirt, enjoying some fresh air and some sunlight.
That’s why we harp on about those concrete fattening pens.
Hey… are we perfect and can we do better? You bet… we can always do better and we promise to keep trying.
Life on the Egg farm
Well it turns out the answer is no.
Like everything there are good ones and some not so good.
Some with heaps of space per chook and some with not much at all. Some with lots of trees and shelter to enjoy and some without any.
There are some with large industrial sized flocks and some with small flocks.
There are some that welcome third party independent inspectors and some that are not keen on that at all.
This is why we decided to get into the egg business.
Heaps. But to be exact the absolute maximum number of chooks allowed per hectare on one of our farms is 2000.
For us it’s about the whole picture.
We like the idea of heaps of space, big grassy fields, lots of shelter, big trees, small happy families, lots of cuddles from the nice AsureQuality auditors and bedtime stories for all the girls every night (well maybe not every night… but you get the idea).
We reckon happy chooks lay the tastiest eggs.
That’s why we say “Farmed the Freedom way. No exceptions”.
We take guidance from the animal welfare experts on this issue.
Our farmers receive their birds from the hatchery at one day old. They arrive with the very end hook part of their beak already trimmed off. This has been done by infrared laser and we are assured the process is relatively painless and stress free. The birds can still display all their natural behaviours including digging for bugs and grooming.
It is prohibited to tip the birds beaks by any other method or at any other age.
We regularly consult with animal welfare experts and will update our standards in line with any advice we receive from them.
Life on the Chicken farm
Yip, you’re right… meat (broiler) chickens aren’t raised in cages like those poor egg laying hens we’ve all seen online and on the telly.
But… lots of them aren’t exactly living the good life either. No sunshine. No fresh air. No space.
We reckon free range chooks should be able to stroll around in the fresh air for the whole day, forage around the gardens, enjoy shade under the trees and have a nice safe house to settle down in at night.
Sounds about right… right? So that’s the life we demand our chooks have… simple.
No kiwi chooks are fed hormones or steroids – artificial or otherwise.
The use of growth hormones has been banned by the NZ Poultry Association for more than 30 years… woohoo! Actually, there’s little evidence that NZ farmers ever actually used them before that anyway.
Antibiotics are only used under guidance of a vet… either to treat sick birds or control spread of an infection if it occurs in a flock. The antibiotics prescribed are generally not used for human illnesses… and there are strict rules to make sure the antibiotics are safely out of the chicken meat before it is processed.
Would we prefer that the chickens never need antibiotics… of course. Less antibiotics = less superbugs. But… we’re not ever going to be comfortable with a bird not being treated if it is sick. In fact… that’s against everything we believe in.
Don’t you agree?
Yip… our processors have accreditation from the New Zealand Islamic Development Trust. This has absolutely no impact on the welfare of chickens at the abattoir – they are still processed according to our welfare standards.
Freedom Farms free range chickens are the Ross 308 breed. This is the most common breed of meat chicken in the world. They’re a white chicken with a broad breast and strong short legs.
Heaps. The maximum stocking density is 34kg of chickens every square metre indoors… but most of the time it’s less than this.
Outside the chooks have a maximum stocking density of 10 birds per square metre… again this is a limit not a norm.
You may have heard the saying ‘birds of a feather flock together’…? That’s quite true… chooks feel safer when they stand close together… so you’ll often find a big open space with lots of huddles of chickens dotted around the place.
Pork Foodie Questions
Well it’s normal to have water in the brine used to cure the ham or bacon (but dry cure bacon can be made with just salt and sugar rubbed on the meat).
Trick is though, the more water you put in, the cheaper you can make the stuff.
We reckon people don’t want that… so we try real hard to make dryer style bacon and ham.
Our piggies deserve the best.
In a ham bag is best.
If you don’t have a ham bag… you can use a clean pillow slip (take out the pillow first).
First mix a tablespoon of vinegar with water and soak the bag… it only needs to be damp. Then pop in your ham and keep it in the fridge.
Repeat the process every 5 days or so.
Sure you can. But it is actually better if you can avoid it as it tends to thaw out wetter than before you put it in… because the cells ‘pop’ as they expand when freezing.
We reckon the guru on roasting is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
His ideas are you always start with a “half hour sizzle’ then turn it down. He goes into huge depth on the reasons why in his book The River Cottage Meat Book… if you are interested.
So to quote Hugh it’s like this…
– Heat the oven up to 220 oC
– Roast your cut for 20 min (up to 2 kg)… 30 min(over 2kg)… 45 min(over 3 kg)… this is called the “sizzle”.
– Turn down oven to 160oC
– Then roast for 25 min per 500g… for whole fillet, whole scotch, rolled leg
…or 30 min for belly, shoulder, bone in leg and loin roasts.
– Remove and rest for 10 mins before carving.
You do not have to overcook pork… treat it like beef and its best medium really… it’s not like chicken. Juices just need to run clear.
Yip, we do use a very small amount of sodium nitrate and nitrite in our bacon. The nitrates conversation is something we’ve been grappling with since Freedom Farms started 12 years ago, and we’re aware it’s had quite a bit of media coverage recently. The research has been around since the 1970s, but the arguments are still really complicated and the pros and cons far from clear. For a bit of background on the ‘expert’ position… click here to see what Food Standards Australia NZ have to say.
We did offer a preservative free bacon for a while, but it was a very slow seller and the supermarkets all dropped it eventually. But we’re still open to it. We have re-started discussions with the grocery stores about developing an old-school dry cured bacon with nothing added except pork, salt, sugar and smoke… we really need them on board to make it a viable path to go down, so we’re getting that process underway.
Our view on nitrates is that there is still considerable disagreement about the relative risks and their causes. We’ve read as much as I can on both sides of the argument, we’ve spoken to food scientists in NZ, and are familiar with the work of Bee Wilson, who’s article in The Guardian has fuelled a lot of recent conversation. It’d be a wonderful thing if reducing cancer risk was as simple as just swapping out one ingredient! We reckon that what is important (and sometimes missing from these conversations) is sensible moderate consumption of bacon (and other processed meat/red meat) as a ‘treat’ food.
Egg Foodie Questions
Most Free range eggs come in boxes labelled mixed grade.
This means a lucky dip of different sizes.
We decided to offer our eggs in various sizes so every egg in the box is the same.
It goes like this.
M-our not too big eggs -M stands for medium
L-our big eggs-L stands for large
XL-our really big eggs -XL stands for ?
Chook Foodie Questions
This one isn’t as tricky as people think… you just have to be careful about how you handle your bird! Common sense goes a long way here…
Don’t wash your chicken in the sink (…or the bath… or the shower) – all that achieves is spreading any bugs around. If your chicken is a bit moist, blot it with paper towels then pop them straight in the bin.
Cross contamination is a big problem when it comes to managing foodborne illnesses… anything that gets chicken on it should be washed with hot soapy water before it comes into contact with anything else… think about your chopping board, knives, kitchen sponge/cloth and that tea towel you used to wipe your hands after you took the chicken out of its packaging! Some people find it easier to use a separate chopping board, or do all the other prep first so the chicken is the last thing you have to do.
Frequently washing your hands should be a part of your kitchen routine anyway, whether you are preparing chicken or not. The 20/20 rule is a good one… wash for 20 seconds with hot soapy water, then dry for 20 seconds with a clean dry towel (…not the back of your pants!).
Finally, the cooking part. There are no magic tricks here. Your chicken is safe to eat when it is cooked to an internal temp of at least 74oC. The best way to gauge this is with a meat thermometer… and in the meatiest part of the chicken (the thickest part of the breast or the inner part of the thigh). If you don’t have a meat thermometer, stick a knife in those meaty bits and check that the juices run clear (not pink). But really, you should probably just invest in a meat thermometer… it makes cooking so much easier!
There’s heaps of work going on to make freedom farming environmentally sustainable. Check out our good farming page to learn about what we do.
We liked the idea of going to a supermarket and being able to trace the bacon in the pack right back to the exact farm the pork came from.
So we made it happen. Seriously if you give us the batch number on the pack we can tell you the exact farm.
This is important because as consumers we can then be sure exactly how the piggy has been farmed.
We love stuff like this.
Just like our piggy farms they are independently audited and approved by the AsureQuality auditing team.