In the past people used to grow or catch their own food. When more and more people began living and working in towns and cities, they could no longer get food that way. This is where farms came from. Farmers produce (grow) more than they need and sell the extra to people who want it. With the way our towns and cities work today there is no way for everybody to grow or find their own food – we need the food supplied by our farmers.
Pigs are farmed differently because they are very different to sheep and cows. They need different conditions and different care. They need different feed and do not have wool or fur to keep them warm. To look after pigs properly farmers need to ensure three things.
Pigs are sheltered from the weather
Pigs are kept well fed on a balanced diet
Sheep and cows are ‘ruminants’ - they have four chambers in their stomach. This means they can digest foods like grass and hay. This creates heat which, along with a cow’s thick skin or a sheep’s wool, helps them stay warm even in New Zealand’s cold winter weather.
Pigs are ‘monogastric’ - they have only one chamber in their stomach. This means they need a balanced diet with higher energy cereal grains like barley, wheat and maize and added protein. Digesting their food doesn’t do much to keep pigs warm and they don’t have fur or wool so they get cold more easily. The white pig breeds can also get sunburn. With New Zealand’s weather, pigs need dry, draught free shelter for warmth in winter and shade and wallows in summer.
In New Zealand almost 40% of sows are farmed outdoors. They have huts for warmth in winter and shade in summer and a wallowing hole to keep cool in summer. Outdoor pigs also need free-draining soils. Without good soil, the paddocks will be wet and muddy in winter and dry and dusty in summer, creating health and welfare issues for pigs. This is why pigs are only farmed outdoors in certain areas of New Zealand.
Because pigs are monogastric they need a complete mixture of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in their feed.
In some group situations, pigs will compete or bully each other for feed. One pig might stop another receiving its share of food. This is especially common in pregnant female pigs (‘sows’).
To grow well, pigs need to be farmed in ways that make sure they receive a balanced diet. One of the most important times to feed pigs well is when they’re pregnant. If a farmer uses a system where pigs can be separated or individually fed it is easier for them to make sure each pig gets the right amount of feed.
Find out more about what pigs eat.
In herds, pigs can catch diseases from each other – they can even catch diseases from humans. To make sure a pig herd stays healthy, farmers feed and house their pigs well, keep them warm and vaccinate them against certain diseases. Farmers also check their pigs on a daily basis.
It is particularly important for a farmer to check a sow’s health and welfare when piglets have just been born and as the young piglets grow over the first few weeks. At this time sows and piglets need very different conditions. Sows need a temperature of 20-220C and new born piglets need 30-32 0C. Farmers have developed different systems such as farrowing pens (or farrowing huts for outdoor farms) to help with this.
Where a sheep or cow will have one or two babies at a time, a sow can have up to 15. There is a huge difference between the size of a sow and her piglets. Sows will sometimes lie down on and accidentally squash their piglets – see a video here. A cow or sheep can feed and care for her one or two offspring quite easily – and she is not going to squash them without noticing. A sow needs more help to give all her piglets the best chance of surviving.
Farmers can do a lot to support sows and their piglets. Our industry does not recommend one style of pig farming over another because there are benefits and limitations to each. Read more about farrowing pens.
Visiting a pig farm takes planning and organisation with the farmer. To protect the health of their pigs farmers control who and what comes onto their farm. They do this to prevent, control or eliminate diseases.
‘Biosecurity’ for farmers means stopping diseases or pests from getting to their pigs. Good farm biosecurity means pigs have as little contact as possible with people, vehicles or animals that could carry disease.
The New Zealand pig herd is free from many pig diseases present in other countries. Our pig herd has a very high health status, something our farmers work very hard to protect. If a disease enters the pig herd it may be very difficult, or sometimes impossible, to get rid of it. Our herd health status is one of the main advantages of New Zealand pork over imported pork. Keeping their pigs healthy is one of our farmer’s top priorities – this is why it can be difficult to visit a pig farm.
A balanced diet. Pigs are omnivores – this means they eat both meat and vegetables.
Farmers work hard to provide a balanced diet to keep their pigs healthy. Their diet includes grain such as corn (maize), wheat, oats or barley; and high-protein foods like soya meal, milk powder, fish meal and peas.
Pigs also eat meat. New Zealand regulations require meat to be treated (heated to 100°C for an hour) to reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as foot and mouth (FMD) or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).
Pigs are often fed garden scraps or edible food waste from supermarkets or restaurants. This can be a great way of recycling unwanted food. However all food containing meat must be properly treated. Read more information here.
Pigs nutritional needs change as they grow. Young pigs need easier to digest foods with more energy. Breeding stock can handle more fibrous foods (more cereal grains etc.).
Commercial pig feeds are cereal based (barley, wheat, maize), balanced with protein sources such as meat and bone meal, blood meal, soya meal, fishmeal and supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Young pigs often get milk powder too.
Human food-waste, by-products and root crops can be fed to pigs but this needs to be balanced with protein, vitamins and minerals.
Sows and older growing pigs can get some of their nutrition from grazing.
Sharing the same breakfast
There are two main breeds of pigs on New Zealand farms. Modern sows are based on the Large White and Landrace breeds. Modern boars are often from the Duroc breed or selected combination of breeds.Find out more about different pig breeds
The table below shows what pigs are called at different ages, and a rough guide to what they can weigh.
Sows and Boars
No. Although PST (porcine somatropin) is registered for use in NZ under veterinary supervision, our industry took a stance against its use in 2002. When farmers send their pigs to slaughter they sign a declaration that the pigs have not been given PST. Imported pork does not need to match this commitment.
Only when needed for a sick pig and to maintain and enhance pig health and welfare, under veterinary supervision. Imported pork does not have to meet New Zealand’s standards around antibiotic use.
Absolutely. Only 100% New Zealand PigCare™ Accredited pork carries the assurance it is:
made from pigs raised on New Zealand farms
raised under world class welfare standards (PigCare™ and New Zealand’s Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare 2010)
free from added growth hormones
compliant with New Zealand's stringent food safety standards
Imported pork does not have to meet New Zealand’s welfare standards.
NZPork provides free labels to retailers and butchers to label their 100% New Zealand pork, bacon and ham. If there is no 100% New Zealand PigCare™ Accredited label on what you buy, there is no guarantee that you are buying 100% New Zealand pork. If you’re unsure, ask your butcher.
Find out more about PigCare™.
New Zealand’s welfare standards for pigs are among the highest in the world. The 100% New Zealand PigCare™ Accredited label shows these high standards have been met.
There is no requirement for imported pork to meet our high welfare standards. The only requirements it must meet are New Zealand's biosecurity standards, plus the food safety requirements for imported foods.
Approximately 60% of the pork and pork products eaten in New Zealand are imported. Most imported pork ends up in bacon, ham and small goods. If you want to be sure you are buying 100% New Zealand pork products, look for the 100% New Zealand PigCare™ Accredited pork label.
New Zealand has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Our farmers are asked to do better than many other countries. Yet imported pork products come into New Zealand without having to meet our welfare standards.
Imported pork is often cheaper than New Zealand pork. Many overseas pork producers receive government subsidies. (Their governments help pay for the cost of farming.) New Zealand pig farmers have never had subsidies.
Imported pork can be farmed using added growth hormones and antibiotics.
New Zealand’s pig farmers are proud of being welfare-minded. They are proud of their decision not to use growth hormones. They are proud of their sustainable farming methods. They are proud of their quality 100% New Zealand product.
As the volume of imported pork rises, the New Zealand pig farming industry will struggle to compete with cheap imports. Buying pork with the 100% New Zealand PigCare™ Accredited pork label supports our farmers (and the NZ economy). It also guarantees you quality pork that meets high welfare standards and is fresh, nutritious and tasty.
A sow stall is a pen for a single sow (female pig). They are also known as ‘gestation stalls’ or simply ‘stalls’. They are not farrowing pens. But since December 2015 they are not used at all in New Zealand.
In 2010 (under the Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare), the New Zealand pork industry agreed to stop using sow stalls completely by December 2015. Since December 2012 stalls could only be used for the first four weeks of pregnancy.
Phasing out sow stalls had to be done slowly so that it could be done right. Farms needed time to change to new ways of keeping their sows without causing a drop in their welfare. NZPork worked with technical advisers, vets and farmers to find new farming systems.
The challenge for our farmers was finding new ways to look after the sows when they are newly pregnant. The new systems had to look after the sows well even when they are aggressive and difficult to handle. It also needed to be cost effective, so that 100% NZPork could stay affordable.
Over the last few years our farmers have worked very hard to experiment with and set up new group housing systems. These new systems need highly qualified and experienced staff to work well.
Probably not. 100% New Zealand PigCare Accredited pork comes from pigs farmed using many different farming systems.
Fresh 100% New Zealand pork comes from ‘finisher’ pigs (piglets that have been grown especially for market). These pigs do not spend any time in stalls once they are weaned (read about farrowing pens above).
Some of the processed pork products you eat, small goods such as sausages and salamis will have come from sows. Depending on the farming system used, these sows may have spent time in farrowing pens for the birth of their piglets and to feed and care for their piglets until they are weaned (outdoor sows usually don’t, indoor sows usually do.)
No commercially farmed pigs in New Zealand are kept in cages.