Thursday, 26 September 2019 08:55

Pigs thrive behind the wire

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Christchurch Men’s Prison farm chief instructor Warren Chilton with fattening pigs on one of the farm’s Freedom Farms-certified straw barns. Photo: Rural News Group. Christchurch Men’s Prison farm chief instructor Warren Chilton with fattening pigs on one of the farm’s Freedom Farms-certified straw barns. Photo: Rural News Group.

Suggest to farm manager Warren Chilton that he is farming people as much as he is farming animals and he readily agrees.

Chilton is the principal instructor at the Christchurch Men’s Prison farm, 804ha of mixed livestock and cropping surrounding the prison on the western outskirts of the city.

The jewel in the farm’s crown is its 8000-strong piggery. And it runs 2000 breeding ewes, about 250 beef cows and grows about 100ha of barley.

Also on site is a woodwork shop, so altogether there could be up to 40 low security prisoners “outside the wire” on any given day, training in the skills they will need on release.

“We are here basically for rehabilitation of prisoners, to give them work skills, work ethics, get them work ready and hopefully find jobs for them. That’s our main focus,” Chilton told Rural News.

The farm runs on a commercial basis so the prisoners get no surprises when they go into industry, he says.

The prisoners also receive classroom training and work towards NZQA qualifications, with modules on quad and tractor handling, chemicals handling, shearing, drilling and fencing.

About 60% of prisoners are effectively illiterate so literacy and numeracy are embedded in the training.

The farm was set up at least 100 years ago to feed the inmates. As it moved towards more commercial farming, the piggery was set up because the prison needed an industry that was labour intensive and suited to its light, free draining soil.

The piggery is now the major part of the farm. It runs 600 breeding sows, 66 boars as AI backup and 7000 growing pigs. Chilton describes the piggery as a “farrow to finish” operation, selling 17,000 animals to slaughter each year.

Ironically, for an operation where human prisoners provide the labour, the piggery’s products are sold NZ-wide under the Freedom Farm brand. The brand certification requires a range of strict animal welfare standards that start with no confining crates or concrete fattening pens.

Sows live outdoors, each with her own farrowing hut set in a small paddock separated from her sisters by electric fencing. The farm’s pigs also have wallows protected by shade cloths during summer.

Litters stay with their mothers until weaning when they start rotation through a series of light, airy barns with straw or woodchip floors. The pigs are free to wander with 24 hour access to food and water and are able to display normal behaviours in social groups.

“We get a premium for our product because that’s what customers want now,” Chilton said. “They want to know where their pigs have come from and that they’ve been treated nicely. 

‘They’re not lying in crates and stalls and things like that.”

The piggery runs year round to a weekly rhythm. AI is done on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

Weaners are taken from the sows on Thursdays, at an average age of 26.5 days and 8kg in weight. They are then reared through a series of eco-barns and micro-barns before going to slaughter at 138 days and 70kg dressed weight. About 100 go on Sundays, and 200 on Wednesdays. The farm also sells about 20 smaller spit pigs a week.

With two main sources of pig semen in New Zealand, the farm uses Waratah Farms semen for their replacement dam line and PIC New Zealand semen for the sire line. Chilton says this combines the best from both companies. 

“It’s really changed the efficiency and performance of our pigs. They’re growing faster and leaner,” he says. “If you don’t keep improving all the time you’ll get left behind.”

More like this

Pig sector joins the chorus

Pig farmers have joined a growing chorus in the primary sector calling on the Government to urgently review its migrant worker policies in the wake of Covid-19.

Valtra S394 is pick for porkers

Award-winning pig farmer Patoa Farms likely have the only Valtra S394 tractor in New Zealand — but that may soon change given its many benefits. 


New apple proves to be hot item

The first apple to be commercially released from the Hot Climate Programme is receiving rave reviews from growers in Italy, France and the UK, according to horticultural company T&G.


Wool group raises $500k

A new group established to revise the fortunes of New Zealand’s struggling strong wool sector says it has already raised more than $500,000 and is starting to roll out its work programme.

Bring on the blueberries!

While Hew Dalrymple was beginning his journey with broccoli, brother Roger became involved in a state-of-the-art blueberry growing operation, which sees the fruit grown in hydroponic pots in huge tunnel houses.


Machinery & Products

Good growth year for Claas

While many sectors of the agricultural machinery were hit by the ravages of Covid-19, the effects of the pandemic did…

Green machine frugal on fuel

According to the industry respected independent DLG PowerMix test, John Deere appears to be the best choice of tractor for…

App takes pressure off

TRS Tyre & Wheel, owned by Trelleborg Wheel Systems, has introduced the TLC Plus App to the New Zealand market.

New MF 5S series arrives

Just before Christmas, Massey Ferguson quietly released details of the successor to its popular MF 5700S range in the shape…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Poor snowflakes

This old mutt understands the country’s trendy, woke, vegan community (all four of them) is taking time out from being…

Any charges?

Your old mate wonders if the over-reaching do-gooder who set up a North Canterbury cow sanctuary “to save retired dairy…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter